Snookerbacker

September 7, 2018

Shanghai Masters – All Change

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:30 am

Defending Champion Ronnie is amongst those competing for the big bucks here

I’ve been dipping in and out of the snooker so far this season and I plan to keep it that way for the most part, but now and again, as well as the big three UK based tournaments, I’ll awake from my semi-retirement slumber to focus on a decent event and this year, the newly formatted Shanghai Masters is one that I think might be a good watch.

The 2018 World Snooker Shanghai Masters will be held from 10th to 16th September at Shanghai Regal International East Asia Hotel and this year it becomes the richest ever invitational event in snooker’s history. 24 players, the top 16 from the current ranking list and 8 further Chinese players will battle it out for a total prize fund of £725,000.

Given that it’s always been referred to as a ‘Masters’ competition, it didn’t really make sense it being effectively a professional open event all these years and this fits far better with the remit.

Given the exclusive nature of this new format and the money at stake it now has a chance to cement itself in the calendar as the Chinese version of our own blue riband event at Alexandra Palace and it’s no surprise that all the big names will be there competing in what unanimously seems the Chinese city of choice amongst the players.

China is also keeping up its recent tradition of extending matches to a longer format, that’s one thing they do better than the UK. Matches here up to and including the quarter-finals will be played over the best of 11 frames, semi-finals best of 19 and the final a unique best of 21 frame encounter. 

Possibly the best way to work out your bets is by clicking away on the event prediction page at snooker.org as it seems the governing body still haven’t worked out how to get something resembling a readable, never mind interactive draw onto their spiders website, a website which is in dire need of some long overdue attention, it really is a mess.

It’s difficult to know how all of the top players are playing at the moment as they are mostly still feeling their way into the season, but early season winner Neil Robertson could face Ronnie early doors and recent (minor) ranking event winner in Germany Kyren Wilson could face Judd Trump. The whole draw just screams quality and I’d like to see all the players ranked 9-16 come through the first round to give this a real Masters feel. There is full coverage on Eurosport so this I reckon will really feel like the real start to the season as we look forward to some cracking ranking events around the corner, almost wall to wall until Christmas.

There is no such thing as a good draw in an event like this but you can look and see that a couple of the proven winners have potentially more comfortable paths to the semi-finals, after that of course it becomes coin-toss central. But looking at the draw I’d be prepared to risk a few quid on John Higgins. He tends to start winning stuff when he realises his holidays are done and dusted and he comes into this fresh having only played two competitive matches so far this season, winning both very easily. To me he looks a good bet to make it to the semis and there he could face O’Sullivan, who he has beaten 5-0 and 5-1 in their most recent meetings, over 2 sessions I’d be prepared to plump for the Scotsman again there.

In the other half, I’d say similarly World Champion and recent World Open winner Mark Williams looks to have a winnable path to the last four and I’d back him to be there before backing any of the players in the quarter of death above him. Mark Selby has won a minor event already this season but he admitted that he didn’t play that well to win it afterwards, but of course that’s what he does best and who would argue with him being able to do it again this week? 

So, in short I’d be backing the top 4 seeds to make the semi finals here, Higgins v Ronnie and Williams v Selby, but simply because I think he’ll have had the most comfortable route there and given his recent record against The Rocket, my only bet in the outrights here is Higgins. But you could of course try the quarter betting roll up too. I’ll post a first round acca here when all the wildcards have hopefully been dispatched.

RECOMMENDED BETS: John Higgins to win the Shanghai Masters @10/1 with Sportingbet. Acca pays over 17/1 boosted at Ladbrokes on Quarter winners being O’Sullivan, Higgins, Selby and Williams.   

August 23, 2018

The Paul Hunter Classic

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:24 am

After a busy week of qualifiers in Preston the tour returns this weekend to Germany, the town of Fürth near Nuremburg to be precise for the annual Paul Hunter Classic, which celebrates the all too short life of one of snooker’s great young stars.

Amateur players are already battling it out over there while the professionals make their way to the venue. It has to be said that it’s quite disappointing that so many of the top players are giving this a miss, it always seems like a very well run event in a nice arena, but unfortunately the prize money and prestige of it lessens year on year, despite the healthy German crowds that turn up to enjoy it all.

Of the really top players you can only really pick out Shaun Murphy and Kyren Wilson, which means that this is potentially a tournament that might produce snooker’s next ranking event winner, it’s not often you find Jack Lisowski, who is arguably the early player of the season, vying for favouritism in the outright markets but that’s exactly what has happened here.

Much like a lot of the tour, I’m not going to really be covering this in any depth but given the field it would be silly not to at least have a crack at the outrights, so a few against the field follows…

RECOMMENDED OUTRIGHT BETS (ALL EACH WAY): GARY WILSON 25/1, JAMIE JONES 33/1, TOM FORD 33/1, ROBERT MILKINS 40/1, JIMMY ROBERTSON 50/1.   

Click here for the draw

Click here for the format

 

August 5, 2018

The Yushan World Open

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 3:39 pm

Back to winning ways in Haining

The second ranking event this season gets under way on Monday in what has in the past affectionately (I think, might be wrong here) been known by one of the players as ‘the arse end of China’ AKA the county of Yushan in China’s Jiangxi Province, where last year Ding Junhui lifted the title on home soil.

It’s a real planes, trains and automobiles trip for the potters this one, some of whom will turn up, get beat and then wonder why they bothered. But that’s the nature of the beast these days and for all the tough decisions about leaving your wife and that little person who doesn’t know who you are back home, that’s what it takes to make it at this game and these Chinese comps aren’t going anywhere soon. This week sees total prize money of £735,000 with a top prize of £150,000.

The past week has seen a few of the potters doing battle with some select Chinese players in the very secretive annual Haining Open, though in truth it’s about as open as that Book of Condolences they had for Jimmy Savile in Leeds Cathedral. I’ve no idea how the players playing in this are selected but anyway, there were some right old shenanigans going on there over the course of the event.

Marmite Matt Selt continued his charm offensive by letting a huge roar out with accompanying fist pump when beating a Chinese opponent who it is claimed was determined to put poor old Selty off at every opportunity, the after match handshake was more of a brush of hands and the Chinese player appeared to flick the finger at someone just after it. All very schoolyard.

Elsewhere, Liang Wenbo continued to do his second rate impression of Ronnie O’Sullivan by conceding a match early after missing a black off its spot. The petulant bendy faced cueman worships our Ronald and is frequently seen out dining with him on ducks gonads and antelopes arsecheeks and Ronnie has clearly been giving him advice on etiquette, I wonder what the Chinese for gobble is?

Anyway, amongst all this anarchy at least one thing didn’t change. World Number 1 Mark Selby ran off with the title having trailed Li Hang 4-1 in a best of nine final, so The Jester comes to Yushan with a trophy in tow and looking more like the man we all know and love.

As for this, it’s still very early in the season for me to bet with any confidence but I’ve had a good look at the draw and I think there might be one or two lesser known names making the last four, so I’ll just play on a few outrights and possibly put a few match bets up on Twitter each morning. Best of luck if you are getting involved.

Recommended Bets: Win Bets – Neil Robertson @9/1 Mark Allen @22/1. Each Way Bets – Marco Fu @40/1, Luca Brecel @125/1, Chris Wakelin @160/1 and Gary Wilson @200/1.  

The best way to work out your outright bets probably continues to be by playing around with the main draw here whilst the Eurosport 2 television schedule can be found here.

July 24, 2018

Snooker Returns – The Riga Masters

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:00 am

Ryan defends in Riga

OK, technically it had already returned with the qualifiers in Preston, but let’s be honest, only the most ardent of anoraks will have taken any notice of that. This week however it’s back on the box as the annual Riga Masters from Latvia opens up the snooker season proper.

Ryan Day made his ranking breakthrough in this last season, the first of three tournament wins in his best season as a professional and he is back to defend his crown having had his match heldover, also involved is World Champion Mark Williams.

Unfortunately, but largely understandably, a few of the other top players have decided to give this one a miss, there’s no Ronnie, no Selby, no Ding or Judd but there is the likes of Robbo, Murphy, Allen, Carter and Hawkins. The take up however was so low that there were a few walkover versus walkover matches in the qualifiers (to be fair they were more entertaining than a few of the others), so it’s fair to say that this one isn’t exactly ticking all the boxes with the players, I think probably through a mix of the time of year and the relatively low prize money.

But on the plus side it gives the numpties more of a chance. It’s a good opportunity for the lower ranked players to hit the ground running in what is again a marathon season, but even at this early stage, a semi-final or better showing from a lowly ranked numpty might mean the difference between staying on tour and dropping off, so it could be a good week for one or two to find some early season form and get their tail up for when we really get going.

In terms of the blog, I’ll be again dipping in and out of the snooker this season. The days of chasing hits and visits are long gone and it can get a little repetitive covering everything so I’ve decided to also work on a seperate snooker-related project that I’m quite excited about. I’ll be starting this when the weather gets a bit cooler and probably asking a few general questions on here and on Twitter as research.

In the absence of anything that makes any sense on the World Snooker website of late, probably the best way to view the draw (and enter the competition if you so wish) is the excellent Event Prediction draw page at snooker.org – until the governing body make some sort of effort to sort out their website to make it more informative and accessible then I’ll carry on linking to these, which are much simpler to work out, sometimes as they say, less is more.

I’ll leave you with a few outright bets, which looking at the draw might be worth a few early season quid.

Recommended Outright Bets: Kyren Wilson win at 7/1, Marco Fu each way at 35/1 (Bet Boost at Ladbrokes), Jamie Jones each way at 66/1, Zhou Yuelong each way at 80/1. 

May 6, 2018

World Championship Final – Back to the Future

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:12 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the head to heads.

Enjoy.

   

May 3, 2018

World Championship Semi Finals

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 11:09 am

The stage is set

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on the matches below for the head to heads.

Kyren Wilson v John Higgins

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

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

Prediction: Wilson to win 17-13     

Barry Hawkins v Mark Williams

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

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

Prediction: Williams to win 17-15       

May 1, 2018

World Championship Quarter Finals Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 7:15 am

The One Table Situation beckons.

Mark Allen v Kyren Wilson

Tuesday 10am/7pm and Wednesday 2.30pm

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

Prediction: Allen to win 13-10    

John Higgins v Judd Trump

Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 10am/7pm

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

Prediction: Higgins to win 13-9   

Ding Junhui v Barry Hawkins

Tuesday 10am/7pm and Wednesday 10am

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

Prediction: Hawkins to win 13-12    

Mark Williams v Ali Carter  

Tuesday 2.30pm and Wednesday 2.30pm/7pm

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

Prediction: Williams to win 13-11

RECOMMENDED BETS:

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

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

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

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

DOUBLES, TREBLES AND AN ACCUMULATOR ON ALL THE ABOVE – ACCA PAYS OVER 22/1.

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April 25, 2018

World Championship 2nd Round Preview

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 9:35 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Perry v Mark Allen

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

Prediction: Perry to win 13-11   

Kyren Wilson v Jamie Jones

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

Prediction: Wilson to win 13-9 

John Higgins v Jack Lisowski

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

Prediction: Higgins to win 13-10  

Ricky Walden v Judd Trump

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

Prediction: Walden to win 13-11

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Ding Junhui v Anthony McGill

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

Prediction: Ding to win 13-6  

Lyu Haotian v Barry Hawkins (never played each other)

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

Prediction: Lyu to win 13-11     

Mark Williams v Rob Milkins

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

Prediction: Williams to win 13-8 

Ali Carter v Ronnie O’Sullivan

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

Prediction: O’Sullivan to win 13-8

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

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

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April 19, 2018

World Championship 2018 Preview – Williams Can Turn Back The Clock

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 3:25 pm

*Goosebumps*

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

Case Closed Santa. We’ve got Snooker Loopy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now then, what have we here…..           

QUARTER 1 (TABLE ONE)

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

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

PREDICTION: Selby to win 10-8.

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

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

PREDICTION: Allen to win 10-4.

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

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

PREDICTION: Wilson to win 10-6.

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

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

PREDICTION: Jones to win 10-8.

PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Mark Selby

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QUARTER 2 (TABLE ONE)

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

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

PREDICTION: Higgins to win 10-7.

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

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

PREDICTION: Lisowski to win 10-7.

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

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

PREDICTION: Walden to win 10-5.

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

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

PREDICTION: Trump to win 10-4.

PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Judd Trump.

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QUARTER 3 (TABLE TWO)

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

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

PREDICTION: Ding to win 10-6

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

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

PREDICTION: McGill to win 10-9

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

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

PREDICTION: See above.

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

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

PREDICTION: Hawkins to win 10-6

PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Barry Hawkins

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QUARTER 4 (TABLE TWO)

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

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

PREDICTION: Williams to win 10-4.

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

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

PREDICTION: Robertson to win 10-8.

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

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

PREDICTION: Carter to win 10-9.

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

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

PREDICTION: O’Sullivan to win 10-6.

PREDICTED QUARTER WINNER: Mark Williams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 12:00 pm

A clear and undeniable favourite again this year.

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

Clue: his nickname is a type of salad leaf.

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

Enjoy.

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, to the history and nostalgia bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hendry was usually pretty reliable, with the odd blip.

Hendry was usually pretty reliable, with the odd blip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rocked Higgins in 2010.

Rocked Higgins in 2010.

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

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

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

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

I’ll take care of that for a bit.

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

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

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

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

So, the figures as they stand are since 1981:

Winning Favourites (Including Joint Favourites): 15

Losing Favourites (Including Joint Favourites): 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defeaters of The Crucible Curse: NOBODY. EVER

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