May 3, 2015

World Championship Final: Murphy v Bingham

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:23 am

The final match of a busy season for the top players is fittingly also the biggest match of the season, in terms of prestige, money at stake and distance and it’s Stuart Bingham, fresh from a thrilling win last night over Judd Trump, who faces Shaun Murphy in this season’s World Championship Final at The Crucible.

Last night provided a much-needed epic match, notching the tournament for me up from a 5 out of 10 to a 6. Trump’s incredible fightback was littered with centuries and Stuart rolled with the punches and came out the other end battered, bruised and tear-soakingly victorious in undoubtedly the match of the championship, if not the season.

There are already people out there claiming that this final is a bit of a letdown, in terms of who is contesting it and protesting that they won’t bother watching it (they will). But these two are there as of right and are two of the best and most consistent players of the season. We usually end up with the best player over the two and a bit weeks lifting the trophy at the end and there is no reason why either of these two can’t fit that mugshot profile come Monday night.

So before posting what can only really be a token prediction, you know the drill by now in terms of bets, back the overs on the centuries as these pockets are generous, here’s what the two protagonists had to say after their wins.

Murphy for me has looked almost unbeatable in his last two matches and is cueing better than anyone else here and probably the best he has ever done, so for me I think it’s his to lose. I’ll say now that I’d like Stuart to win, primarily because it’s clear how much it would mean to him and how he would react if he did, I don’t think there is enough Kleenex in the UK to mop up his tears.

But the heart cannot rule the head when it comes to the serious business of punting and if you are looking for an interest in this I’d go somewhere along the lines of 18-13 to Murphy which is best priced 11/1. You can grab the overs on the centuries (+5.5) at 5/4 so that’s probably worth a punt too.

In terms of a novelty bet, Murphy is playing so well that I’d risk a couple of quid on him to make 5 centuries at 15/2 or 6 at 18/1. You can also get 25/1 on there being a 147 in the match if you are feeling really adventurous, though I’d say that’s unlikely.

So there is enough in there to keep any small, medium or large punter interested and watching.

Let’s hope it’s a classic, a black ball decider would be good, just like 30 years ago.

April 30, 2015

World Championship Semi Finals: The One-Table Situation

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:09 am
I hope she likes snooker.

I hope she likes snooker.

While we have all been in the Land of Nod, dishing out the Z’s and dreaming hazy baizey dreams, the table pixies under the watchful eye of The Snooker Gods, have been hard at work at the Crucible with fluffy spanners, spiritual levels and magical fairy dust to transform the most cramped arena in snooker into the vast gladiatorial epicentre that is, ladies and gentlemen, the legendary one-table situation. 

The four warriors left to fight to the death are a former champion, two former runners up and a 39 year old newbie, perhaps not, when we all looked at the quarter final line-up, the four that we expected to be the last ones standing, but all there as of merit and all in fine fettle.

The action kicks off at 1pm this afternoon when Shaun Murphy and Barry Hawkins take to the baize, which means Shaun will be able to assess and tell us all about the kickage levels before anyone else now that the tables have been turned. Nature loving Barry is straight back out there following his win last night over, it has to be said, a rather sour loser in Neil Robertson in another decider, he’s making quite a habit of these.

Tonight sees Judd and Ballrun start out their best of 33 frame marathon with the feverish Judd perhaps having expected to be facing Ronnie, but Ballrun overcame the fragile Rocket last night in very assertive style, the most watchful fanatics having long since detected that Ronnie was not ‘at the races’ either during this match or any of his others. Once more, the favourite tag proved too much for him and perhaps his winning days here are over, just like John Higgins.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at how these might pan out.

Shaun Murphy v Barry Hawkins

Shaun has looked very sharp on the table this year and even picked up a ‘Best Dressed Player’ award from the sponsors yesterday now that he has returned that ridiculous clowns outfit he turned out in the other day for a bet to the fancy dress shop on Sheffield High Street. Barry in the meantime is again proving the old adage that The Crucible is very much a ‘horses for courses’ venue, lining up in his 3rd consecutive year at the one table situation. He’s generally very underrated is Baz and I’ve been guilty of this myself for too long, he’s a player that flies so under the radar that even if he arrived today wired up with a backpack the US Intelligence Agencies would decide he’s not worth the bother, but something tells me this underdog tag suits him just fine. Murphy on the other hand is a player that most of us believe to be firmly planted in the world’s top 5 (5 or 6 if you are Willie Thorne) and having achieved the ‘Grand Slam'; an accolade hastily made up by the BBC, this season by winning the Masters, he’s now up there with an elite bunch of the game’s greatest and most good. Their form coming into this championship could not really have been more different, Murphy has had a very good season and Barry has been pretty awful since December, but having survived three ‘too close for comfort’ encounters he’s somehow made it here and given that he’s not been used to being at this end of a tournament for quite a while he seems fresh enough and unlikely to use burn-out as an excuse. Maybe it’s the great British country air at his cottage that’s doing the trick. So who wins? Well I think it will be Murphy. At this stage you have to side with the player who you believe is in the better form and the way he closed out the match against McGill leads me to believe that if this gets close he can do the same here, he’s also not had the inconsistency that Barry has shown at times during his matches. But he’ll have to be right on his game, if he isn’t, prepare for another grappling win from The Hawk, who given everything I have said I do think is a pretty generous price to win for value hunters.

Prediction: Murphy to win 17-14

Recommended Bet: 3 points on over 3.5 centuries at 10/11.       

Judd (right)

Judd (right)

Judd Trump v Stuart Bingham

Judd was nothing short of awesome against Ding and anyone that watched the first six frames and nothing else this week and is about to jet off on holiday will return expecting to read that he is the new champion of the world. He’s been threatening to perform like this here for the last couple of seasons but this time it all seems to be clicking into place and he now finds himself odds-on favourite to get his hands on the famous old trophy and read all the names of the traditionalist anoraks and old farts that have won it before him. He’ll also get the chance to give Burger King some much needed publicity in the press afterwards; such a noble cause. Stuart will be many people’s idea of a party pooper having knocked out the narky, unstable and frankly childish Rocket in clinical fashion. I for one don’t want to watch Ronnie if he’s not on his game and I’m glad he lost, his behaviour at times to me was bordering on gamesmanship and he’s lucky that he’s still being allowed to get away with it by some, though not all, of the referees. I think this match could be a cracker in terms of the standard and I expect Bluebell Wood to be the main beneficiaries. Both of them are approaching the match right at the top of their game so there is very little to split them. But I, like a lot of others now, think this is Judd’s time to shine and I can see him having a session in amongst these four where he takes a stranglehold on the match. As I said in the original preview a couple of weeks ago, he will be world champion, it’s just a question of when rather than if. He won’t get many better chances than this and all he has to do is to play the way he did in the last round and he’ll be covered in confetti on Monday night. He just has to keep his focus and not let the thought of winning put him off.

Prediction: Trump to win 17-11.

Recommended Bet: 3 points on over 3.5 centuries at 4/5.

Recommended Double: 2 points on Murphy/Hawkins +3.5 centuries and Trump/Bingham +4.5 centuries pays just on 3/1. 

April 27, 2015

World Championship Quarter Finals Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 10:30 pm
The Smiling Assassin

The Smiling Assassin

The perceived wisdom when it comes to the longer match format is that the cream will usually or always (age dependent) rise to the top and with 7 of the world’s top 8 players lining up alongside a qualifier who shamelessly took advantage of a mystical, often denounced, but now 100% irrefutable curse, to fight out the Quarter Finals, it appears that there is something to be said for this well worn, much quoted and misquoted adage. Who said it first anyway? 

It’s already been a good tournament, though for me not yet exceptional, but you sense looking at this line up that it’s about to get a whole lot better. All of them, without exception, are playing well enough to win the tournament outright and whoever does come out on top will be a worthy champion, whether it be a sick one and a sixth one for Ronnie, a pleasant second for Robbo or Smurf, or a first and foremost for McGill, Hawkins, Ding, Judd or Ballrun (each of whom will be cursed next year).

Bettingwise, it’s not been fantastic but not a disaster either, some success in the outrights will correct all that anyway. Judd was the original preview pick and he’s in with as good a chance as any of them, so I’ll cling to that and cheer him on from the pocket, the one that’s not sponsored by BK. You got it.

As for who I would like to win, it’s a very difficult one. The old shameless and helplessly foolish romantic in me that listens to Richard Hawley albums when I read this back, will obviously say McGill as everyone likes a fairytale. Don’t they? But when it comes to the two players left in it that I feel deserve to be a world champion sooner rather than later it has to be the winner of Judd and Ding. Anyway, let’s have a look at each of the matches still left and see what the bookies are offering up to entice us in again.


Ringleader of the Tormenters.

Ringleader of the Tormentors.

Anthony McGill v Shaun Murphy

Tuesday 10am & 7pm and Wednesday 2.30pm

What an achievement whatever the result of this match might be, by Anthony McGill. His ‘Licensed to Thrill’ tag has been well earned with tension filled victories over Maguire and the cursed champ Selby. His demeanour around the table and general approach is to me one of a player who can’t quite believe this is happening; but as another old adage warns; beware the smiling assassin. Can he beat Murphy, the last qualifier to lift the trophy a decade ago, in his sixth long match? Well obviously as the tournament goes on it will get harder and harder for him to blot out what is actually happening, on the other hand he has already far exceeded his own expectations and might just relax. Anthony doesn’t strike me as the kind of character that will let this get to him too much but surely, if he’s going into the final session of this with a chance, whether he be ahead, level, or a couple of frames behind (probably the best place to be), the realisation will begin to dawn on him of what he stands on the precipice of? Murphy, who appears to be taking his Magician nickname a little too far by dressing up as one, claiming that the snooker dress code is too restricting (though obviously not restricting enough in his case), is cueing well and his long game in particular looks in tip-top shape. He is winning easily but in the matches against both Hull and Perry he won a lot of frames that he could easily have lost so perhaps the scorelines were slightly flattering, alternatively, perhaps Shaun commands so much respect on the table that his opponents are rendered useless. Either way, this is a match where I’m not going to recommend a bet on the outcome as I don’t know how McGill will react either at the start or at the end, nobody does, it’s guesswork. The facts are that Murphy is much more experienced here and in general, he has never lost to McGill and is flying out of the traps in every match he plays and asserting himself early, make of that what you will, but like I say, beware the smiling assassin….even if he gets beaten easily, there should be plenty of chances for Ants to land the bet below over this distance, it should be quite an open match.

Prediction: Murphy to win 13-11

Recommended Bet: 3 points on McGill to make at least one century break at 4/6.   

Country Life

Country Life

Barry Hawkins v Neil Robertson

Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 10am & 7pm 

Robbo remains a lot of people’s big fancy for the title, including his mentor and mate Stephen Hendry so who am I to argue? He is undoubtedly cueing very very well and dominating proceedings in the matches he has had so far. But arguably he hasn’t been tested at all yet, for whatever reason both Jamie Jones and Ali Carter didn’t get a foothold in their matches with him when players in sharper form may have done so and given him more of a test early on. However well he is cueing, Robbo is giving chances to his opponents and I think he will continue to do so, his safety and tactical nous remain one of his strongest assets and undoubtedly win him more frames than a lot of people who just see the century maker bully give him credit for. Barry Hawkins did a mini-Houdini act to come back and beat Mark Allen, who looked in decent form and he is clearly once again enjoying the Crucible atmosphere from the natural beauty of his rural escape just a few miles outside Sheffield. The very likeable Barry has had such a quiet season, mainly because he’s kept on losing, that he’s a bit of a surprise package here despite his high ranking. He’s come through two close ones already but is probably still pretty fresh and up for this having had such a bad run of form prior to coming here; his lack of focus being largely, according to him anyway due to his general attitude towards practice and travelling, both an unfortunate and highly inconvenient by-product of being a top level snooker player. But the Rampant Robbo (they’ll nick it, trust me) has won all their really meaningful matches and you have to fancy him to do so again. But he’s no kind of price to back and I reckon Hawkins could easily make a decent match of this, I also think the centuries bet is probably worth a go between two players who don’t get distracted when they have won a frame and tend to mop them up for the ton-up punters. I think the first session of this is key and assuming Robbo doesn’t get off to a flyer and romp away to 6-2 up or better, this one could be closer than some might expect, I’d actually not be a bit surprised if Barry ended up winning.

Prediction: Robertson to win 13-10.

Recommended Bet: 4 points on over 2.5 centuries at 4/5. 

Time to get Naughty.

Time to get Naughty.

Ding Junhui v Judd Trump

Tuesday 10am & 7pm and Wednesday 10am

What a match we have in prospect here between two players that will have their sights set a little higher than a Quarter Final exit. As if we weren’t looking forward to it enough the pre-match talk from both gives it that bit of (albeit pantomime) edge. Ding proclaimed with a cheeky grin that Judd was ‘lucky’ last time he beat him here and that he’d ‘beat him this time’, in response Judd claimed that Ding’s opponents so far have ‘made him look like he’s playing better than he is’ and that he would be ‘showing him how good my form is on the table’. Come onnn….I love all that me. Personally, I think both of them, even without all the bravado which they are obviously both being told to do by the powers that be, look ready to win their first world title and a big part of me thinks that the winner of this will do just that. Their head to head sheds very little light on things, it’s incredibly close as you might expect with Ding having won a few more frames than Judd, but their matches in big tournaments have been more or less equal, so no real advantage there for either player despite how much past encounters will be raked up to try and find some psychological clues. I suppose it comes down to who plays the better on the days of the match. To some extent, Judd has a point, Ding, however different his attitude might be this season has benefited from a terrible performance by Dark Mavis and a total collapse from John Higgins, who should really have won the last frame of their match when Ding wrapped up the win, as well as a fair few others. In truth, if you were to turn the clock back 3 years, Ding would definitely have lost to Higgins without a shadow of a doubt. Judd however has been solid and measured, making his way through in quiet rather than crash, bang, wallop style but his game to me looks more or less the finished article these days. I hope this is a cracker and I’m going to stick with Judd, I just feel that going into this, he is playing the better match snooker of the two and that is what will be the difference between them.

Prediction: Trump to win 13-10

Recommended Bet: 4 points on the winning margin being under 4.5 frames at 4/6. 

Another crack at Ronnie

Another crack at Ronnie

Stuart Bingham v Ronnie O’Sullivan

Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 2.30pm & 7pm

A great performance from the understated and underrated Stuart Bingham against Graeme Dott books him a place in only his second Crucible Quarter Final, in which he faces the same player that walloped him here two years ago, 13-4. Indeed the head to head is heavily weighted in favour of O’Sullivan as you might expect, but Bingham has beaten him twice over the longer/ish distance so he shouldn’t go into this with any sense that history is stacked against him. Indeed Ballrun is a much better player now than he was even back in 2013 and inflicted a defeat on Ronnie in York just a few months after his Crucible disaster when The Rocket looked to be playing very close to his best and heading for the title. The two also have a bit of previous and the needle is never far from reaching boiling point if Ballrun ever has the audacity to push Ronnie close, interestingly, it’s never the other way around. Right, that’s the case for Stuart out of the way. As for Ronnie, he’s been very different this week to the Ronnie of the past three years, his discipline isn’t there and he is behaving at times like a petulant child, despite the fact that he’s nearly 40. He’s almost snapped his cue, taken his size 8’s off for dramatic effect, talked about his passion for shagging, pimped for more media work and been warned for ‘lewd’ cue gestures (basically wanking); so a standard week in the life of snooker’s biggest barnpot. But on the table he’s sharp, whether he is up for the fight more now that his nemesis Selby is out of the equation remains to be seen, but I reckon that he’s probably quite pleased that someone else beat The Jester before he’d have to give it another shot as I am certain that the defeat in the Final last year hurt him like no other ever has. I don’t necessarily think that Ronnie is that far ahead of some of the others now and something still tells me he won’t be winning this, but I can’t realistically see him losing this one.

Prediction: Ronnie to win 13-7.

Recommended Bet: 5 points on O’Sullivan (-4.5 frames) at 4/5.

Recommended Acca: 2 points acca at Bet 365 pays over 7/1 on: McGill and Hawkins to make at least one century each, Ding v Judd over 21.5 frames and Ronnie v Bingham under 20.5 frames.     


April 22, 2015

World Championship Second Round Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:39 am

Crucible ImageI’m back from my annual pilgrimage to The Crucible and ready to make a fairly deep arse dent into the sofa in the East Wing Lounge of SB Towers, as we move steadily into the second round and the best of 25 frame matches.

I’ll be recounting tales and takes on what I’ve experienced and felt and some of the people I have met for the first time and caught up with over the course of the next few days, as I settle down with the vast majority of the rest of you to enjoy the remainder of the tournament on TV, no doubt at some points watching from a peeping position behind a cushion as the BBC continue to treat me and you like we’ve only just hatched.

In the meantime, the preview below will be updated as and when all matches are known, with predicted scores and where appropriate, recommended bets. Simply click on the match to reveal the previous head to head record.   

Mark Selby v Anthony McGill

(Thursday 1pm, Friday 10am & 7pm)

The defending champion is the first seed back in action, as is traditional, following his epic battle with Kurt Maflin which again saw him do what he does so well in the heat of battle and under intense pressure; win. I think seeing Selby play live in surroundings like The Crucible now for a few years and in particular the other day and last year when he played Ali Carter has made me something of a convert. OK, I have always rated him highly, I’ve sometimes not enjoyed watching him that much but I don’t like some, think he is slow. But now, I think he’s the best match player in the world when he is on song, he really is that good and a worthy world champion. The latest to try and prove that ‘The Curse’ is real is Anthony McGill, who is the latest in a line of players to put a premature end to Stephen Maguire’s fading hopes of ever being champion. McGill is of course a fine player and a great lad on top, but can he cause another upset? Well, my short answer is no, my clarification being that I think Selby will go into this wanting to win every session, so I’d guess he’ll win the first couple 5-3 and 6-2 and then complete the job, not letting Ant too near him, it just feels to me like it will be that kind of match now Selby has had a scare.

Prediction: Selby to win 13-7.

Recommended Bet: 3 points on Selby (-4.5 frames) at Evens.  

Joe Perry v Shaun Murphy

(Sunday 10am & 7pm, Monday 1pm)

When he’s not moaning about kicks or disrupting everyone’s Twitter timeline answering questions, Shaun Murphy is actually a half decent snooker player. A potentially very tricky draw in Robin Hull was brushed aside by Smurf in a clinical way and he’s clearly in really good form. Joe came through a less testing opener against Zhang Anda but both will feel refreshed after getting to this stage with a chance to get to know the table, having spent a lot of time on it. Joe was my initial outside tip to do well here and be the surprise package of the tournament, but I have to say, having seen how well Shaun is playing it’s put some doubts in my mind. So with that in mind I’m going to abstain from a bet on this one and watch, seated on the fence. I think Joe will need to make sure that Shaun doesn’t get an early foothold in the match, if he does, he might run away with it.

Prediction: Murphy to win 13-9.

Barry Hawkins v Mark Allen

(Friday 2.30pm, Saturday 10am & 7pm)

Despite saying he’d have to work on his game a bit to get further, Mark Allen did manage to rattle off 9 in a row against Ryan Day, who for me gifted him so many chances it was hard for Mark to not take advantage and in the end it looked like nothing more than a routine win, it’s a mystery to me why Day played so poorly from 3-1 up. Barry Hawkins in the meantime came through the mill against Matt Selt, almost losing from a very strong position in the face of a rampant comeback by the Marmite Man. But Barry didn’t actually do a lot wrong while Selt was closing the gap and before that had looked pretty good, as he also did in the decider, keeping his nerve when he could easily have folded. I can see this one being quite close actually as their only previous World Championship match was back in 2011 when Allen won a decider. The head to head is rather skewed and at first you’d think Allen had something of a hoodoo over Hawkins but I’d argue that in the only two real big encounters they have had it’s 1-1, with Barry winning the last meaningful one in Berlin in 2013. The bet below to me looks good value as I think they will both reach double figures.

Prediction: Allen to win 13-12.

Recommended Bet: 3 points on winning margin being under 3.5 frames at 11/10.   

Ali Carter v Neil Robertson

(Saturday 2.30pm, Sunday 2.30pm & Monday 7pm)

Neil Robertson will be lots of people’s pick for the title after his impressive first round display against Jamie Jones. The way in which he dominates opponents is really a strength of his and these days when he gets a lead in a match you very rarely see him get pegged back, though it has to be said that Jamie was far from his best and offered Neil very little in the way of resistance. Ali was more workmanlike against Angles and looked very good once he got himself in amongst the balls, there was some rustiness in his long game and he’ll know that he’ll have to get on the practice table and concentrate on that, but in the balls he remains as good as I’ve seen him, his flawless and rock steady cue-action for me explains why he does so well under the intense pressure this place creates. That said, only a brave man would back against Robertson here and that shows in the way this is priced up, which is probably about right given the season they have both had. For me a more interesting proposition with these two heavy scorers is the centuries market as you’d expect there to be a few once frames are secured so the bet below appeals.

Prediction: Robertson to win 13-9.

Recommended Bet: 3 points on Over 2.5 centuries at Evens. 

Ding Junhui v John Higgins

(Thursday 7pm, Friday 2.30pm & Saturday 10am)

John Higgins brushed off his championship chances after his opening victory but I think that was a conscious move on the part of the wily Scotsman, who I’m sure deep down believes that he’s not finished just yet. He played very well in patches against Rob Milkins and indeed afterwards Rob said he thought Higgins had a great chance in this. Ding, on the other hand was so engrossed and focused in potting balls that he somehow forgot that he was on a maximum break on his way to a comfortable first round win over Mavis. For me however, this masks two things, firstly, Mavis played as badly as I’ve seen him play for 90% of the match and despite looking on paper like a really tough first round draw he continually let Ding off the hook in a match that was characterised by both squandering a number of straightforward chances. I felt after the match that despite the hullabaloo surrounding Ding’s blunder, the real question was why his form in general is so poor. OK, there is always room for improvement and a win is a win, but there aren’t many who have gone on to win this without any glimpse of their best form going into it; Ronnie of course being the exception after a season off. It goes without saying that Ding has the talent and game to be World Champion but my feeling going into this is that Higgins is overpriced, he’s also in my view there to compete at the end so the value is Higgins and the bet is that it will be close whoever wins to cover it if Ding prevails.

Prediction: Higgins to win 13-11.

Recommended Bet: 2 points on Higgins at 6/4. 3 points on winning margin under 3.5 frames at 11/10. 

Marco Fu v Judd Trump

(Sunday 10am & 7pm, Monday 1pm)

These two met at this stage two seasons ago and Judd ended up the winner 13-7, so anyone who is a believer that history can repeat itself has their correct score bet right there. Marco came through the first round in typical Marco fashion, nothing fancy, just getting the job done. Judd, complete with a line on his back and a rather unsavoury sponsor logo who doesn’t really need any extra publicity had got the job done against Stuart Carrington in the first session and took his foot off the gas in the second, knowing that it was only a question of when, not if, he would win. In the past, the old Judd might have let a player like Marco get under his skin a bit but not now, I’d say this would be a major shock if Judd lost and I still believe he’ll be a big player in this at the end. I just wish he’d ditch the logo and then I could cheer him on.

Prediction: Trump to win 13-7

Recommended Bet: 3 points on Trump (-3.5 frames) at 10/11. 

Graeme Dott v Stuart Bingham

(Friday 10am & 7pm, Saturday 2.30pm)

A very hard one to call this between two players who on their day are very evenly matched, with Graeme undoubtedly of the two the player with vastly the superior Crucible record. Dotty clearly loves it here and proclaimed himself a ‘Grand National Horse that’s been running over 7 furlongs all season’ in his post-match interview after his win over Ricky Walden. Stuart was himself a little hoarse after his first round victory so all this points to a real race to the line between these two established players. The head to head shows that when they do face each other it usually ends up being close so I’d put nobody off another winning margins bet, I’d also guess that winning frames here is more important to them than big breaks so I would definitely go for the unders on any century bet. But for me, the clue to this match is in their records here, Dott loves it and thrives on it and Stuart has always under-achieved at The Crucible. Dott for some reason isn’t favourite and I think the bookies have got this one wrong, so in terms of value, you have to back form horse Dott.

Prediction: Dott to win 13-8

Recommended Bet: 3 points on Dott at 11/8. 2 points on Dott (-2.5 frames) at 5/2. 

Matthew Stevens v Ronnie O’Sullivan

(Saturday 7pm, Sunday 2.30pm, Monday 7pm)

The perceived wisdom holds that this is nothing more than a routine win for Ronnie, even Mark Williams, a great lifelong friend of Matthew Stevens seemed to insinuate as such after his 10-2 drubbing, claiming that Matthew would have to up his game substantially to stand any chance of diverting The Rocket. Ronnie in the meantime is being his usual impish self, touting for shoes for his surprisingly small size 8 feet and claiming that ‘shagging’ is one of his four current obsessions; to me he doesn’t look focused enough yet to win this tournament, but that could of course change. As for this match, I’ve tried to think of an angle for a bet and it’s proving fairly difficult to find any value as I am firmly in the O’Sullivan camp in terms of thinking who will win, not necessarily who I would like to win. The safest bet here I think with two fluent scorers and Matthew to me looking like he might just nick 7 or 8 frames is the overs on the centuries so I think it’s best to stick with that.

Prediction: O’Sullivan to win 13-7

Recommended Bet: 3 points on over 2.5 centuries at 10/11.


April 16, 2015

World Championship Preview: Trump Can Play the Ace Card

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 2:41 pm

WC TROPHYIt’s here. For snooker fans the best two weeks and three days of the year starts on Saturday, like an extended Christmas for baize hungry fanatics, as all eyes descend on the home of snooker; The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, for the start of this year’s World Championship. Thankfully back with the sponsor it should never have lost, Betfred.

I had planned to lead this piece with talk of ‘The Crucible Curse’, but even this has been overshadowed by the shambolic way in which the draw took place earlier.

Someone carelessly forgot to make the You Tube link live for us to watch and we were left collectively scratching our heads as random tweets started to appear with the draw contained in them, incredibly at one point the BBC and World Snooker differed on who Shaun Murphy had drawn, the governing body incorrectly tweeting Smurf’s first opponent as Anthony McGill. Shaun himself could be seen briefly (when the draw did eventually appear just as it was about to finish) with a golf club in his hand menacingly walking towards the chief protagonists before the whole thing went off again just before Betfred’s Mark Pearson swore live on air. Just prior to this a round of applause finished things off as everyone in the room, Bazza and Nugget included, remained blissfully unaware what a total cock up the whole thing had been from start to finish.

Even the reigning champion Mark Selby was forced to ask someone on Twitter who he was playing on Saturday morning as a healthy mixture of incredulity, humour, disappointment and the odd insult flew at breakneck speed to the World Snooker Twitter account. Slapstick scenes and all rather typical in a way, a total balls up from the off, you’ve just got to take your hat off to the governing body, nobody fucks up quite like they do.

But anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the curse. It really materialised properly when Steve Davis lost to Tony Knowles 10-1 in 1982 when a hot favourite to retain the title he had won for the first time a year earlier, but before him Terry Griffiths and Cliff Thorburn had fallen foul of The Curse and since then, no first time winner has gone on to retain the title, the last total failure being Neil Robertson.

So can the current champion Mark Selby break this unusual pattern? This mystical mystery? He’s racking up the curses too, as from winning the China Open he is also up against history and the snooker gods again, with no winner of that ever going on to win this. It never rains but it pours.

The BBC will probably mention ‘The Curse’ one or two, or several hundred times depending on how far poor old Mark gets so you have to feel for him. He’s saying all the right things but to me he looks like a man overcome with, possibly even possessed by these mystical demons, either that or he had a bit of a cold at the press launch the other day. So is The Curse real? Well, there’s a few who think it is and I ain’t gonna argue with no snooker gods on this. No Sir.

Right, it’s time for the match by match preview with recommended bets, I’ll also include my idea of the winner at the end though the title of the blog does give you a fairly obvious clue, so either scroll right down, or read on and get in the mood….


Can he conquer the Crucible Curse?

Can he conquer the Crucible Curse?


Mark Selby (1) v Kurt Maflin (Saturday 10am & 7pm)

Kurt Maflin came through a gruelling match with Fergal O’Brien, narrowly pipping him in a decider on Wednesday evening. He’s been rewarded by a match against the reigning champion in the time slot that I think most qualifiers wanted to avoid. Selby himself hinted at the launch of the event that he wouldn’t mind drawing a Crucible debutant and that is exactly what has happened. Mark himself said that The Crucible is so unique that it can take a bit of getting used to and if Maffers doesn’t switch on from the start he could find Selby gone without trace. As with all great players, Selby is not only dangerous from behind but he’s also a very strong front runner. Kurt has beaten him on the main stage in the past though in Berlin, but the vast Tempodrom and the tiny, almost claustrophobic Crucible are two very different animals. I think Selby will come through here and probably win with a bit in hand.

Prediction: Selby to win 10-5.

Stephen Maguire (16) v Anthony McGill (Saturday 2.30pm and Sunday 7pm)

An all Scottish clash for the opening weekend as 16th seed Mags takes on Anthony McGill who qualifies for The Crucible for the first time following another dramatic match with Mark King which he very nearly lost from a winning position. Long standing readers of this tripe will know that I really rate McGill, he is a bit old school and perhaps that’s why, he also likes The Smiths. But again the question needs to be asked about how he will adjust to this venue against a player who will feel that he should probably have been World Champion by now, but who is without doubt still good enough to be. Again, my money has to be on the seeded player here, I hope Ant gives a good account of himself and I’m sure he will but I can’t see him winning.

Prediction: Maguire to win 10-7.   

Joe Perry (9) v Zhang Anda (Wednesday 10am and 7pm)

Joe Perry is now a force to be reckoned with and I have a feeling he might come out of this quarter the winner. He has to be happy with his draw here, he has played Zhang ‘Mighty Mouse’ Anda twice in PTC events and never lost a frame to him. Most will remember Zhang taking Hendry to a decider in his debut here a few years back, that was one very very strange match that in that even though it went close you never really thought Hendry was going to lose. He’s done well to get here again anyway after a quiet season. But Perry has landed a plum draw here and returns to the scene of his great match against Ronnie last season. He could be a dark horse in this I reckon.

Prediction: Perry to win 10-4. 

Shaun Murphy (8) v Robin Hull (Wednesday 2.30pm and Thursday 7pm)

Unlike Joe, Shaun has landed what I believe to be one of the worst draws he could have had, but strangely the bookies odds don’t suggest this. Finland’s Robin Hull is a great player, dogged by health issues over the years, he has never quite reached the potential we know he has, but maybe in his later career he can start putting that right. He’s played Shaun twice before, losing both times, but he comes into this with three solid wins behind him, including a defeat of Ben Woollaston, knocking in 6 centuries and countless other 70 plus breaks along the way and on the back of a Last 16 spot in the China Open. He is clearly in a rich vein of form. So could this be a shock? Yes, I think it could be, after all Robin played very well here last year against Ronnie, but Masters champion Shaun has played well all season and can’t be underestimated, I reckon this one could be very very close, possibly the tie of the round.

Prediction: 10-9 to one of them. 

RECOMMENDED BET: 2 points on Hull at 6/1 with the sponsors. 5 points on Hull (+4.5 frames) at 10/11. 3 points on Hull to make a century in the match at 11/4 with Bet 365.


Best taken with a pinch.

Best taken with a pinch.


Barry Hawkins (5) v Matt Selt (Sunday 10am and Monday 10am)

Matt Selt can’t really be compared to Marmite, as not enough people love him, but it has to be said that he’s playing the pantomime villain so well these days you’d almost believe he really is a total bellend. His tongue in cheek comment about wanting to draw Ali Carter to ‘bash him up’ like the last time they played (when Ali won) was taken totally the other way by some. Possibly as a result of some previous in the week involving smashing balls all over the place and calling a respected promoter a ‘fat mess’ in a very public spat. But in amongst all this he is playing the snooker of his life and he’ll be happy to have drawn Barry, a former runner-up, who has not been in great form for a while, though he did show slight signs of improvement in China. Very much like the match above I think this one could go very close to the distance and Selt has the momentum and the game to score a very unpopular win. Pass the marmite.

Prediction: Selt to win 10-8. 

Mark Allen (12) v Ryan Day (Tuesday 10am and 7pm)

Mark Allen’s recent World Championship form has been pretty poor for a player so good. In the last three years he’s done no better than the Last 16 and has been beaten at this stage twice. He’s been handed another very tough draw here and his head to head with Ryan Day is very close, Allen being one up on matches and Day leading their frame scores by a single rack. Allen has been busy preparing for this while the other top players were in China so should come here fresh, Day proclaimed himself ‘knackered’ after the qualifiers but he’s not playing until Tuesday so he’ll have a chance to get some rest. Match sharpness might be the key here and that’s why I’m going to side with the Welshman.

Prediction: Day to win 10-8.

RECOMMENDED BET: 3 points on Day at 2/1.

Ali Carter (13) v Alan McManus (Monday 7pm and Tuesday 2.30pm)

Surprisingly these two have only met once since 2006 and their head to head stands at 2-2. Angles produced what his final round opponent in qualifying Mitchell Mann called ‘the best safety game I have ever seen’ and undoubtedly that is how he wins matches these days. Ali hasn’t got going again yet since his time off but he always plays his best at The Crucible, very rarely does he lose matches here through playing badly and his first round record is as good as anyone in the sport. I watched all his match with Selby last year at close quarters and Mark was just ruthless, his safety was sublime and when he got in he scored, Ali stayed with him but he was just too good in the end. I think if Ali goes into this match in the same mindset he’ll win, as he’ll compete in the safety department and Alan will not punish him as heavily as Selby did.

Prediction: Carter to win 10-7.

Neil Robertson (4) v Jamie Jones (Sunday 2.30pm and Monday 2.30pm)

Neil Robertson will be many people’s tip for champion, he’s very consistent and has had a lot of time away to prepare having flown home early after defeat in China, some might say after a rather disinterested performance. He is also playing an opponent in Jamie Jones that he has never lost to in four meetings and we all know how Neil can use things like this to his advantage in the mind games department. It’s great to see Jamie back here, he was a quarter finalist a few years back and won over a lot of people, what followed was a slump in form but he’s now back to the venue where people remember him most. That said, he beat amateur Adam Duffy in his last match in qualifying 10-8 without making a break over 50. To say he will have to improve markedly to trouble Robbo is putting it mildly. Though I don’t think Neil will win the title, I can see him progressing here with a few frames to spare.

Prediction: Robertson to win 10-4.



Ding Junhui (3) v Dark Mavis (Monday 2.30pm and Tuesday 10am)

Before the draw was made I thought Mavis was the one that most would want to avoid. To me in the qualifiers he looked very solid indeed and breezed through his final match in no time against an under-par Ken Doherty. He’s drawn the enigma that is Ding Junhui, walloped by lower ranked opponents and amateurs all season and unable to buy a win, he showed some signs of recovery in China where he also beat Mavis 5-1. That would suggest that perhaps he has been fooling us all year and just fancied a bit of a rest before making the big push at the end of the season. His Crucible record could be better and he’s lost in Round 1 twice in the last 3 years, famously last time to Michael Wasley. I still don’t think this venue suits him for whatever reason and once you have it stuck in your head that you should really play better here that’s a difficult demon to shift. I think he’ll probably win here but I can’t see him lifting the trophy and I’d take him to lose in the last 16.

Prediction: Ding to win 10-8. 

John Higgins (14) v Rob Milkins (Saturday 2.30pm and Sunday 7pm)

Higgins is coming in to form at just the right time and when that happens at this time of year you need to sit up and take note. I have already recommended an each way bet on him at 40/1 and I don’t see any reason to change my mind as that represents some decent value. He has landed another very tough draw in Rob Milkins who came through a decider on Wednesday night and is straight back on this weekend. Rob has had much the better of their recent meetings and John hasn’t beaten him since 2011, the pattern being that Higgins won their first four and Rob has won the next four, something that does tend to creep in when the very best players get toward the end of their careers. But this is The Crucible and this is John Higgins and I for one can’t oppose him here.

Prediction: Higgins to win 10-6.     

Marco Fu (11) v Jimmy Robertson (Saturday 10am and Sunday 10am)

The super consistent and constantly underrated Marco Fu takes on Jimmy Robertson who makes his second career appearance at the venue. Jimmy came through a real test against Xiao Guodong in qualifying and that has to give him confidence, though facing the rather robotic Fu first thing on Saturday may not be the best tonic for him. Their head to head doesn’t really tell us anything or give any clues and it’s a match that I think will probably go as most would expect, a solid, workmanlike, nothing to write home about win for Fu.

Prediction: Fu to win 10-6.

The time is now.

The time is now.

Judd Trump (6) v Stuart Carrington (Wednesday 7pm and Thursday 1pm)

Before everyone started hating Matt Selt, it was usually Judd who took the brunt of a lot of quite unfair abuse on social media, I say unfair because from what I have seen he’s a nice lad. He faces Crucible newbie Stuart Carrington who he has never played before professionally though apparently they played a lot as juniors. Stuart knocked out the promising Joel Walker, the vegan powered Peter Ebdon and the dangerous Li Hang to get here so he’s proved he can handle all types of player over the long distance. We all know what to expect with Judd, all out attack when the mood takes him but these days a more measured tactical game with it when he has to. Since about November I have had the feeling that this is Judd’s year, something just feels right this time. I’m certain he will be a World Champion and now feels as good a time as any. He’s my tip for the title.

Prediction: Trump to win 10-3



Ricky Walden (7) v Graeme Dott (Saturday 7pm and Sunday 2.30pm) 

Grumpy Graeme didn’t like having to play 3 matches to qualify but he played them and won through to face Ricky Walden, who still hasn’t got a nickname, that’s if you discount the rather erotic sounding ‘Stamina Man’ and the less memorable ‘From Chester’. Oddly, for two players that have been around for so long and often been ranked in similar sections they have only met twice and never in a major tournament. Graeme has been scoring well in the qualifiers and as we know, gives it his all in every match. Ricky has had a good season, winning the International Championship and finishing runner-up in India so he’ll go into this with confidence. It’s a tough one to call this but I just think these days Ricky is a notch higher than Graeme in terms of scoring and consistency so I’ll side with him.

Prediction: Walden to win 10-8.    

Stuart Bingham (10) v Robbie Williams (Monday 10am and 7pm)

Robbie Williams came back to stun Michael Holt in the qualifiers and is a player that snooker folk know is a warm order, he was also responsible for knocking out Poomjaeng to the dismay of Charlie Chaplin fans across the globe who were looking forward to more of his slapstick antics at The Crucible. Robbie will hope this goes slightly better than last season, when he was soundly walloped 10-2 by Neil Robertson on his Crucible debut. Stuart Bingham is one of the big boys these days and not someone you want to run into in the early rounds, when he’s on song he’s as good as anyone and like Joe Perry, I think he might be a bit of a dark horse in this and I’d expect him to make at least the Quarter Finals.

Prediction: Bingham to win 10-5.  


Mark Williams (15) v Matthew Stevens (Tuesday 7pm and Wednesday 2.30pm)

The all Welsh clash has all the hallmarks of the tie of the round as these two good friends cross cues in a repeat of the final 15, yes that’s 15, years ago. God I feel old. If there is a player that you’d say is the ‘form horse’ coming into this championship it is without doubt Williams. His recent form has been superb and the results have followed, despite only picking up the World Seniors trophy at the age of 39, he has maintained consistency now for months. Matthew has again had a quiet season but a bit like Ali Carter usually produces his best here. I’m really looking forward to this one but I think the way MJW has been playing lately may be the difference between the two so I’ll take him for a narrow win.

Prediction: Williams to win 10-7.

Ronnie O’Sullivan (2) v Craig Steadman (Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 10am)

Despite repeatedly trying to claim that he isn’t favourite this year, he is. Yes, The Rocket has been playing down his chances with a bit of reverse psychology for a while now. However, as this post shows, he possibly doesn’t like being favourite at all. He faces another Crucible newbie in Craig Steadman, who was feeding the media some great lines after qualifying with a good win over Jamie Burnett having previously knocked out Michael White. The two have never played each other before and Craig did actually say that this was the draw he wanted so he could enjoy the experience and I’m sure he will. As ever when weighing up a World Championship, you have to take into account ‘which Ronnie will turn up’, his mindset lately has looked increasingly fragile and I think his defeat to Selby last year dented his belief a little. But it goes without saying that if his head’s screwed on right he is the man to beat, but something is telling me that this year someone, possibly Judd, will do just that.

Prediction: O’Sullivan to win 10-4


PREDICTED SEMI-FINAL RESULTS: Perry to beat Robertson and Trump to beat O’Sullivan.


RECOMMENDED OUTRIGHT BETS: 4 points on Judd Trump to win the World Championship at 13/2. 1 point each way on Joe Perry at 80/1. (Previously Recommended 1 point each way on John Higgins at 40/1). 1 point on Joe Perry to win Quarter 1 at 11/1.

RECOMMENDED ACCAS: 5 points on Selby, Neil Robertson, Bingham, Perry and Trump pays a shade over Evens. Add Fu for a 4 point acca pays over 7/4. Add Mark Williams for 3 point acca pays 11/4. Add Walden and Higgins for a 2 point acca pays over 8/1.

TWO ONE POINT BIG PRICED BETS: Robin Hull to hit highest break at 150/1 and Kurt Maflin to hit highest break at 100/1 at Sportingbet.

OTHER: 3 points on Robin Hull and Kurt Maflin both to make at least 1 century in their first round matches at over 7/1 with Bet 365.

April 14, 2015

Qualifying Final Round: The Cubicle and The Crucible Await

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 6:46 am
You do not want to see this on Wednesday.

You do not want to see this on Wednesday.

Tuesday and in particular Wednesday are probably as tense as snooker gets. The final 32 from this year’s qualifiers are soon to become the 16 qualifiers for the best tournament the sport has to offer. Ankle clips at the ready.

There has been lots said about the new format, mostly by those criticising it who are the most affected, but you cannot deny that for the fans, this has been a real positive.

We’ve been hooked online since day one and that isn’t something that, hand on heart, you could have said about the old format. It’s not fair of course, just ask Martin Gould or Michael White, but the 16 winners on Wednesday will not care at all as they will have climbed the three obstacles that were put in their way by nasty old Bazza and will be ready for the fun to begin down the road on Saturday.

Personally I would have preferred eight matches played in full on Tuesday and the same on Wednesday, but they have gone with making all the players dwell on their first session overnight before reappearing to finish it all off on Wednesday, making the possibility of a few turnarounds far more likely in my opinion as the demons start to mess with leader’s minds in the dark hours. I just hope they have stocked up on toilet roll for the final day of play as they’re gonna need it.

So here is the running order, let battle commence.

Unfortunately, given the quick turnaround I can’t waffle on about these matches at length or try and get to the bottom of how Dr. Matt Selt managed to cure himself of manflu yesterday in a matter of hours while upsetting everyone on Twitter, more of that if he qualifies which I think he probably will, but regardless, I’ve given my predicted winners and who I would trust with a bet.  

If you want a look at the head to heads, head to Cue Tracker here and enter the two player names.

Tuesday and Wednesday 11am

Craig Steadman v Jamie Burnett
Mark King v Anthony McGill
Adam Duffy v Jamie Jones
Mitchell Mann v Alan McManus
Ryan Day v Jak Jones
Yu Delu v Graeme Dott
Dark Mavis v Ken Doherty
Matthew Stevens v Joe Swail

Predicted Winners: Burnett, McGill, Jones, Mann, Day, Dott, Mavis, Stevens.

Tuesday and Wednesday 5pm

Li Hang v Stuart Carrington
Robin Hull v Igor Figueiredo
Fergal O’Brien v Kurt Maflin
Zhang Anda v Liang Wenbo
Xiao Guodong v Jimmy Robertson
Robbie Williams v Michael Holt
Matthew Selt v Tom Ford
Andrew Higginson v Robert Milkins

Predicted Winners: Carrington, Hull, Maflin, Wenbo, Robertson, Holt, Selt, Milkins.

Recommended Bet: 3 points on Dott, Mavis, Hull and Maflin pays over 10/3 at Boyles. 1 point on Mitchell Mann at 4/1.

April 10, 2015

World Championship Qualifiers Round 2

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 11:26 am
His spirit lives on.

His spirit lives on.

Sunday and Monday sees us move one step closer to knowing who will be lining up at The Crucible as the second round is played out. 

The event so far has really captured the snooker fraternity’s imagination, confirming that there really is nothing like the World Championship to get people talking.

Talking of people talking, the increasingly adventurous social media moguls over at World Snooker decided to venture into the murky world of You Tube for Reanne’s match against Crafty Ken, always a risk given the dark, sinister underbelly of pond life that resides within the notoriously troll-infused waters of the comments section.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long, about 1 comment in to be precise, until the chat deviated away from the snooker and on to more pressing matters. First of all, Ken’s age was open for debate with one keen fan claiming he was ‘about 65 and well too fukin (sic) old anyway’, this led to others questioning if his advancing years could explain the reason why ‘he’s shit now’. Then up popped someone who claimed to be Jimmy White, a lot of the brainless mob actually believing that they were chatting to the great man himself, there truly is one born every minute or ten every second in the case of You Tube commenters.

The chat evolved, unlike those involved in it, onto technique based questions, one very eloquent poster posing the burning question ‘do her tits get in the way when she is down on the shot?’, an interesting debate followed. Then the ‘comedians’ came out with some good old fashioned 1970’s Bernard Manning style sexism; ‘what is she doing out of the kitchen? LOL’ being a particular lowpoint, well, someone had to say it, it was the elephant in the room after all.

New nickname

New nickname

Once they had then had a few digs at me (apparently I am an 11 year old bellend, which makes a nice change from being an old man in a wheelchair on benefits – but I suppose it’s nice to get a mention) we moved through the obligatory match fixing chat; ‘Barry Herns (sic) has bunged Ken to throw this’ claimed one well-informed individual who chose to remain anonymous, onto a few nickname suggestions, one in particular that World Snooker and Rob Walker may like to consider for next Saturday. Clearly bored with The Jester from Leicester tag one creative type decided it was time for change and that the World Champion should henceforth be known simply as ‘The Cunt’, we’ll see how that pans out.

But at least one poster stuck to the snooker, this guy clearly has some degree of talent in the sport if his claim that ‘I’ve made a 147 with mee cock’ is to be believed. I haven’t seen him advertise this anywhere other than You Tube, so I’d suggest he gets himself a quarter page ad in the next edition of Snooker Scene, the exhibition bookings would surely flood in on the back of that. 

Others in the firing line included Stephen Lee, John Higgins and Judd Trump, so all in all it was a really successful experiment from the marketing team at World Snooker who seemed oblivious to the fact that every reputation in the sport as well as the sport itself was slowly being dismantled to the side of their flagship match for all to see. They were just delighted that over 2000 had tuned in to watch, again, they seemed totally unaware of the fact that they weren’t actually watching at all.

Anyway, on here we do stick to the snooker, well sometimes anyway and the tension and drama will only continue and intensify over the next few days as the wheat is seperated slowly from the chaff and we’ll all be there to watch it all unfold, how cruel are we?

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. 

Bettingwise we are way ahead after Round 1. A couple of wrong calls but singles on Mitchell Mann (11/4) and Zhang Anda (7/4) as well as the four point 9/2 Bumper Acca landing covered those and then some. Let’s see what we can do in Round 2… 

Sunday 10am & 7pm

Michael White v Craig Steadman
Cao Yupeng v Anthony McGill
Tian Pengfei v Jamie Jones
Gerard Greene v Mitchell Mann
Andrew Pagett v Alan McManus
Ryan Day v Alex Davies
Jak Jones v Jack Lisowski
Stuart Carrington v Peter Ebdon
Igor Figueiredo v Rod Lawler
Mike Dunn v Yu Delu
Fraser Patrick v Graeme Dott

A fine performance after an early scare saw Michael White progress through round one, but not without a fight from the impressive Steven Hallworth. As I said in the original preview I expect him to come up against Un-Nooh in the final round so will take him to land the odds against Craig Steadman. Anthony McGill progressed comfortably and now faces Yupeng, I don’t think this will be straightforward for Ants and there is no value at all in backing him at a price I’d say is way too short. Tian Pengfei raced to a 6-0 lead against Rory with one-visit snooker and Jamie Jones also impressed in his opener so that one could be quite a match, toss of a coin for me that one and a possible decider on the cards. Gerard Greene by all accounts behaved like a petulant kid in his first match, intimidating his young opponent Slessor so much that after the match he outed him, he faces Mitchell Mann who is bang in form and I fancy Mitch to overturn GG here. Andrew Pagett was the subject of a hefty gamble in round one, so much so that a couple of firms stopped taking bets on him to beat his Chinese opponent, which he duly did, I can’t see him beating Angles who had a good win over Michael Wasley. Ryan Day had a real scare against the impressive Jamie Clarke and will need to improve to reach The Crucible, I’d take him to win again but Alex Davies seemed to be playing decent in round one so you just never know. Jack Lisowski struggled but eventually came back to defeat Allan Taylor, I was surprised that Jak Jones beat Mehta but looking at the scoring it doesn’t look like it was much of a match so I’ll side with Lisowski again there. Stuart Carrington is more than capable of upsetting Ebdon, but everyone’s favourite vegan usually finds a way to win in matches like this and he’s been playing so well I can’t see him not fighting in the final round. Rod Lawler I expect to bring Igor’s World Championship to a close, looking at his match against Bond it would appear to suggest he didn’t really have to do a lot to win, Bond’s best break being a meagre 38. 10-0 first round winner Yu Delu similarly didn’t have to stretch himself to get a result and he’ll have a much tougher time against Mike Dunn who did what he had to do first round, Dunny however wasn’t in high scoring mode while Delu knocked in four half-centuries and a 133 so I’d side with the Chinese player there just based on first round performance. Finally, Graeme Dott takes on Fraser Patrick, both again had pretty straightforward first round wins, but Dotty was far and away the heavier scorer and I expect him to land the odds there on his way to a Crucible place.

Predicted Winners: White, McGill, Jones, Mann, McManus, Day, Lisowski, Ebdon, Lawler, Delu, Dott.

Sunday 2.30pm and Monday 2.30pm

Thepchaiya Un-Nooh v Jamie Burnett
Mark King v Marcus Campbell
Adam Duffy v Sam Baird
Dark Mavis v Oliver Lines
Lee Walker v Ken Doherty
Matthew Stevens v Peter Lines
Joe Swail v Dominic Dale
Fergal O’Brien v Chris Wakelin
Mark Joyce v Zhang Anda
Zhou Yuelong v Liang Wenbo

Thepchiaya Un-Nooh remains  a backable price here against Jamie Burnett. When he’s not messing around he’s a very dangerous player and probably as good as anyone we have seen out of Thailand, Watanna included. Marcus Campbell had a warm up in Round 1 whereas Mark King was a player who was handed a more tricky first rounder, given Marcus’s poor recent form and King’s relatively decent stuff I have to side with Kingy there, but he’s no kind of price really and would not have been 4/11 best had this been played a season ago. I was impressed with Adam Duffy in his win over Gould which was undoubtedly the shock of the first round, but Gould himself was poor and I’m sure will be disappointed in his performance. Sam Baird is one of those players that can turn it on when he’s in the mood and I fancy that to be an entertaining match, difficult to call so it’s best left alone. Mavis is obviously one of the class acts playing this week and is heavily odds on to beat Oli Lines, Oli however has the game to win and I wouldn’t be surprised if this produced a shock. LeeWalker has to fancy his chances against Ken, poor old Kendo has done precious little all season and only just squeezed through against Reanne, 5/2 on Walker looks huge to me. Pete Lines made hard work of his first match, which on paper looked a procession for him, he now faces Matthew Stevens and the two have had just the two close matches in the past, I’d fancy Matthew for this but if it goes close, which it probably will, you never know. Dominic Dale isn’t a player I’d usually trust with my life savings but his price to beat Joe Swail looks worth an investment, when he’s on song he can still produce and Joe isn’t the force of old. Chris Wakelin is a player I rate and he’s worth siding with at 2/1 against Fergal, Mark Joyce has been quietly getting the results of late and is a difficult opponent, given his style and pace but Zhang Anda is good enough to keep with him over the longer distance and again I think might land the odds as he did last round against Hamilton. Zhou Yuelong is winning over a lot of people as China’s next big thing, he faces China’s last next big thing Liang and isn’t beyond springing another surprise.

Predicted Winners: Un-nooh, King, Baird, Oli Lines, Walker, Stevens, Dale, Wakelin, Anda, Yuelong.

Recommended Bets: 3 point treble on Michael White (morning session), Dominic Dale and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh pays 5/2 at Boyles. 2 points on Lee Walker at 5/2. 2 points on Oli Lines at 5/2. 2 points on Chris Wakelin at 2/1. 2 points on Zhou Yuelong at 5/2.   

Monday 10am and 7pm

Gary Wilson v Li Hang
Ben Woollaston v Robin Hull
Steve Davis v Kurt Maflin
Xiao Guodong v Liam Highfield
Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon v Jimmy Robertson
Dechawat Poomjaeng v Robbie Williams
Noppon Saengkham v Michael Holt
Matt Selt v Jimmy White
Tom Ford v David Gilbert
Luca Brecel v Andrew Higginson
Darryl Hill v Robert Milkins

Gary Wilson touched down safely after his China Open adventure and got through his first match comfortably enough. Assuming he has now fully caught up on sleep he should now be OK. His opponent Li Hang gave Chris Melling a right old pasting with some heavy scoring so Gary will have to be sharper this time around, can see that possibly being a surprise win for the Chinese player. Robin Hull is another who scored much heavier than his more fancied opponent Ben Woollaston in Round 1 and Ben will have to up his scoring a notch in my opinion against the very dangerous Fin who of course qualified last year and played Ronnie. A dramatic black ball victory for The Nugget will surely be his crowning moment this year, Kurt Maflin will punish the mistakes that Jamie Cope didn’t and you have to fancy a comfortable win for Maffers there. Xiao Guodong will fancy his chances against Liam Highfield but they were both 10-1 winners in Round 1 and Liam should not be underestimated there, though I’d agree that Xiao is a slight favourite. Thanawat threw up a surprise in Round 1 and now faces Jimmy Robertson who is a player who I think long matches bring the best out of, I’d marginally fancy him for that one. Poomjaeng is a player I always underestimate and that’s why you should not take any notice of me when I say I think Robbie Williams will beat him, I’ll probably be wrong again. As for Michael Holt, he came away from his last match complaining about the tables but I thought he looked very solid and I think he’ll get the better of Thai Noppon. Matt Selt you’d expect to see off Jimmy, Selt was in a right nark the other day and may face some action for doing this midway through his match. I’m going to plump for Dave Gilbert to beat Tom Ford, Tom hasn’t had a great season and Gilbert is a player I have always liked and rated highly, bit of an underachiever really. You can’t see Rob Milkins losing but you have to say what a great result for new young pro Darryl Hill in the last round over James Cahill, clearly one to watch out for next season. Finally, Luca and Andrew Higginson, The Belgian Bullet hasn’t lost a frame yet and for me is now looking like the real deal, I’ll take him to land the odds here as the bookies have clearly spotted this too and make him a short priced favourite against his far more experienced opponent.

Predicted Winners: Hang, Hull, Maflin, Guodong, Robertson, Williams, Holt, Selt, Gilbert, Brecel, Milkins.

Recommended Bet: 3 point acca pays over 2/1 on Maflin, Holt, Selt and Gilbert add Brecel for a 2 point acca which pays over 4/1, add Guodong for a 2 point acca which pays over 7/1. 2 points on Hull at 7/4. 2 points on Hang at 5/4. 

April 7, 2015

World Championship Qualifiers Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 5:02 pm
Where they all want to be.

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.

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

Michael WhiteThe 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

JackA 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

Dogged Dotty

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

StevePeter 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

KyrenMarcus 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

jIMMY WITH pIZZAThe 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.

World Championship: The Fate of the Favourites – A Potted History

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:40 am
What does history tell us?

What does history tell us?

The Crucible spectacular is nearly upon us and once again, like last year, Ronnie O’Sullivan is undisputed favourite with the bookies.

Ronnie of course didn’t justify his short price last season and starts this time at slightly longer odds, but still short enough to believe the bookies will want him beat.

Remember that his 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.

When you look back at the history books you find that the bookies have given remarkably few players the accolade of Championship Favourite as the years have passed.

The 80’s were predictably dominated by The Nugget, who started favourite for the championship every year from 1981 to 1989. That honour/pressure then reverted to Stephen Hendry, whose 90’s titles mostly justified favouritism, though he did win one when not the strongest fancy in the field.

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 last year when Ronnie was back at the top of the odds list.

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….

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, this format change resulted in the biggest shock of the decade. Davis, an odds-on favourite, suffering the ‘Curse of the Crucible’ and losing first round 10-1 to Tony Knowles. Alex Higgins picked up the trophy 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 Jimmy 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. Defeats at the hands of Dennis Taylor and 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 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). 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 young Stephen’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 gunned down Hendry in the Quarter Finals. Scouser John Parrott was to take the title defeating 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 may 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. 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.

2000 – Ronnie O’Sullivan (1st Round Loser). A new name at the top of the bookies list was now materialising. But 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. 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. Stephen’s time in the final was now up.

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. Perhaps then, the shift in emphasis this year may give his rivals some hope? The other four champions in these years were Williams with his second, qualifier and big outsider Shaun Murphy, another outsider Graeme Dott and John Higgins with his second title in 2007 after almost a decade’s wait.

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 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 now that Ronnie started clear favourite, he lost early on again, this time in an epic match against Mark Allen. This means that of the nine times Ronnie has started Crucible favourite with the bookies, he has only won the title twice. Perhaps he prefers 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 the final.

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.

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 is strong form, unlike the previous year. 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.

So, the figures as they stand are since 1981:

Winning Favourites (Including Joint Favourites): 14

Losing Favourites (Including Joint Favourites): 21

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 10 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). 

It remains to be seen whether Ronnie can win as favourite this time around, but if you believe in such things the omens aren’t particularly good. He has only ever justified favouritism at the bookies twice from ten attempts. Contrast this with Davis and Hendry who each won the title six times in their nine times under the favourites spotlight.

If other players, pundits, bloggers or indeed fellow punters are looking for some suggestion or clue that O’Sullivan won’t justify favouritism this year, this is the kind of thing to spend hours boring people in the pub with, convincing them that Ronnie isn’t the man to beat as the bookies would have us all believe.

History is stacked against him after all.

March 31, 2015

The China Open Continues

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 12:54 pm
Robbo - Right Result?

Robbo – Right Result?

Below is the schedule for Wednesday over in Beijing as the China Open moves into the Last 32 phase.

I have to say, it’s a real shame that this event comes so close to the World Championship qualifiers as this is taking a lot of the sheen off it as people look forward more and more to Sheffield. It’s a shame because it’s usually a very good tournament.

I can’t help thinking that there should be at least a fortnight’s gap between the final ranking event and the start of the World Qualifiers, if anyone involved in the Ponds Forge event has a run in this, they will be severely handicapped once they race back to Sheffield to play three Best of 19’s to try and qualify. Particularly if they’ve also been involved in Llandudno and Thailand, that’s a pretty gruelling schedule for anyone.

The seeded players don’t have that problem and though there are some that will be adamant that Neil Robertson has had the best possible result in being dumped out on day one, but even if the player that wins this is seeded in Sheffield, they still have a fortnight to recover so I don’t think it’s that big an issue really.

Anyway, we’ll see if the ‘Curse of the China Open winner’ will happen again, but it might just be a coincidence that nobody who has won this has ever gone on to win the World Championship, after all, back to back ranking event wins are pretty rare these days. That said and as Neal Foulds pointed out to me earlier, if Selby wins it he’s got two curses to get round, good luck with that Jester. 

Recommended Bet: 2 point double on Mike Dunn and Robin Hull pays over 5/1 at Bet 365. 

Elliot Slessor v Mark Selby
Stuart Bingham v Michael White
Ryan Day v Stephen Maguire
Barry Hawkins v Dominic Dale
David Gilbert v Zhou Yuelong
Zak Surety v Robert Milkins

Robin Hull v Mark King
Jack Lisowski v Dechawat Poomjaeng
Anthony McGill v Shaun Murphy
Mark Williams v Michael Leslie
Mike Dunn v Kurt Maflin

Ding Junhui v Dark Mavis
Peter Ebdon v Judd Trump
John Higgins v Graeme Dott
Ricky Walden v Gary Wilson
Marco Fu v Jamie Jones

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