There will be different types of table at Ponds Forge from Tuesday.
The World Championship Qualifiers start on Tuesday at their new home, Ponds Forge Leisure Centre in Sheffield, not far from the venue that all the 112 players involved want to reach. The main event itself starts just three days after the last ball is potted, at the home of snooker, The Crucible Theatre. It’s the best time of the year for snooker fans.
In my opinion, the qualifiers is one of the best events of the year, in fact after the World Championship itself, the Masters and to a lesser extent nowadays the UK Championship, this is up there with the one I really look forward to. Simply because there is so much at stake for every player there, namely the chance to finish the season at the Crucible. They will all be giving it their all and that usually makes for compelling viewing.
There will be drama, there will be stories, there are likely to be shocks and surprises, there always is, will we see some new faces at the Crucible? Will some of the old favourites return for another tilt at the dream? How about the Chinese players? Will we see the beginning of the much heralded Chinese revolution on the baize with a huge Chinese contingent starting at the Crucible? What about the two Indian players, will they make their country proud by qualifying for the biggest event snooker has to offer? Whatever happens, this is what the snooker season has been leading up to.
Bring it on.
I recommend you sign up to World Snooker TV for £3.99 this month as I just have, they will be covering two tables every session live and for once, you don’t even have to live in the North Pole or the Amazonian rainforest to watch it, so it’s worth the small expense to be able to see it without having to put your face right next to the screen at the bookies sites.
Below, I have taken each section of the draw and given my thoughts. At the foot of the post I will recommend some bets. I’ll be posting round by round from now until May 5th, when this great championship comes to an end.
THE SIXTEEN QUALIFYING SECTIONS
How it works: There are 4 players in each section who begin in Round 1. The two winners then progress to play the next named player in Round 2. The two winners of those matches then meet in Round 3 and the winner of that match plays the highest seeded player in the rankings in their section final. The winner takes their place at the Crucible.
Zhang Anda v Andrew Pagett winner plays Dechawat Poomjaeng
Craig Steadman v Jak Jones winner plays Steve Davis
Winner plays Ken Doherty
Season Form: Both first rounders Zhang Anda and Andrew Pagett have largely had seasons to forget, Anda did however have a decent run recently in European Tour 8 getting further in that than Andrew has in anything all season. Jak Jones has lost all his 15 matches on the Main Tour this season and will have to raise his game markedly to trouble Craig Steadman in the other first round match up. I’d imagine that last year’s Crucible joker Dechawat Poomjaeng will dispense with the winner of the Anda/Pagett encounter but the big match in this section will be the legend that is Steve Davis’s push to keep his tour place against, I’d say, Steadman. I think Steve will be bang up for it, he’ll draw a crowd and I think he’ll do enough to keep his place on the tour by winning his first and possibly his second match against, I’d guess Poomjaeng, who I still think is a little overrated personally. This sets up a possible clash with Ken Doherty and in truth, you’d have to make Ken a hefty favourite against whoever he plays. But this is Davis, this is a big challenge and it’s not beyond him to get to the Crucible again donning the waistcoat rather than the V-Neck sweater which is the ultimate prize should the BBC pair have to battle it out. I have to plump for Ken, with Steve maintaining his pro status by reaching the final round.
Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Ken Doherty.
Dave Gilbert – Rocking the Silver Threads.
Liam Highfield v Khalid Abumdas winner plays Jimmy Robertson
Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon v Sanderson Lam winner plays Anthony McGill
Winner plays Dave Gilbert
Season Form: It goes without saying that Liam Highfield has been handed the easiest draw of the round and should and will progress unless his arms fall off, even then I’d make him a slight favourite to be honest against Khalid, who remains the most inexplicable professional on the main tour. Thanawat plays my mate Sanderson Lam in the other match and although I think Sandi will give a good account of himself and not get thumped, you have to fancy the Thai player there to come through. Either way I think this is a section which will see the seedings go to plan and we’ll see McGill against Jimmy Robertson in the penultimate round. McGill is a player I really rate and I think he has the game and the attitude to get into the top 16 at some point, I’d back him to beat Robertson and come through to face Tamworth farmer Dave Gilbert in the final round. It’s difficult as I think both McGill and Gilbert are top 32 players and it’s always nice to see the best 32 at the Crucible, but this never happens of course. Gilbert is a quality player and I think if he plays McGill this could be very very tight indeed, but McGill is the only player I think who can threaten Dave here so you have to stick with the top seeded player given all the possible scenarios and the fact he has just one match to prepare for.
Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Dave Gilbert. Worth a Punt: Anthony McGill.
Barry Pinches v Hammad Miah winner plays Alfie Burden
Kyren Wilson v Chris Norbury winner plays Rod Lawler
Winner plays Graeme Dott
Season Form: Some decent players in this highly competitive section will be vying for the right to play Danger Man Dott to qualify. Hammad Miah has won 9 from 27 starts in his first season as a pro but he’s a player I think is quite underrated by some and could push the more experienced Barry Pinches close. SB Classic Runner-Up from 2013 Kyren Wilson faces Chris Norbury from Preston and Kyren has shown enough form to suggest he can progress there. Either way and whoever gets through the first two matches they will need to up their game to beat Alfie Burden and Rod Lawler respectively and although it’s not beyond the realms that one of the early starters could make it all the way to the final round I think it’s quite unlikely. Dott will be a player that the seeds will want to avoid should he make it to the Crucible and you have to think that he will, he’s in good form and will not want to miss out on the big one having been pushed out of the Crucible seeded places by virtue of the World Champion being automatically seeded number one, despite his ranking being outside the top 16.
Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Graeme Dott.
Martin O’Donnell v Shane Castle winner plays Andrew Higginson
Daniel Wells v Ryan Clark winner plays Kurt Maflin
Winner plays Dominic Dale
Season Form: The MO’D, Martin O’Donnell faces amateur player Shane Castle, who got the public’s attention in York losing narrowly to Mark Selby, so even though he remains an amateur at least for the next few weeks he is a dangerous opponent for Martin. Ryan Clark has won just two matches this season and faces Daniel Wells, who should have enough in the tank to progress. Whoever makes it out of this foursome has very stiff opposition in the next round. Andrew Higginson can be one thing or the other and has struggled for consistency all season, while Kurt Maflin is one of the heaviest scorers in the game when he’s on song and can rattle frames off at a rate of knots. I actually fancy Maflin here to progress onto a tie with highest seed Dominic Dale and I’d make that a coin toss, I just have a slight inkling that Kurt will be lining up for the first time at the Crucible this time rather than crowd favourite Dom, it’s about time he played there.
Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Kurt Maflin.
Jamie O’Neill v Cao Xinlong winner plays Peter Lines
Paul Davison v Chris Wakelin winner plays Alan McManus
Winner plays Mark Williams
Season Form: Jamie O’Neill comes here from his best performance of the season in a main ranker in Beijing and has a highly winnable draw here against Xinlong who has won just 5 times from 17 starts and is on a big losing run. In the other first match tough match player Paul Davison faces dark horse Chris Wakelin who I rate. Wakelin has started his first year as a professional with promise and while I think he’ll need another year before beating more established players regularly he’s a player I’d keep an eye on next season in the qualifiers. Either way the victors come up against Peter Lines and Angles McManus, two experienced wily old pro’s – a tough test. Whilst I could potentially see O’Neill turning over Lines on current form I think Angles will have the measure of his first opponent and progress to a match against Mark Williams to qualify for the Crucible. Whilst there is the pressure of expectancy on MJW, he’s coped with worse and to be honest he’s a confident pick to make it to the place he lovingly refers to as a ‘Sh!thole’, let’s face it, the World Championship would not be the same without him.
Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Mark Williams.
Mehta – Danger Man.
Michael Leslie v Chris Keogan winner plays Aditya Mehta
Joel Walker v Allan Taylor winner plays Jamie Jones
Winner plays Michael Holt
Season Form: Scot Michael Leslie has struggled for results again this season but has taken a few decent scalps along the way including most notably Jack Lisowski in the UK Championship, I think he’ll have a bit too much for Sheffield based amateur and SB Classic regular Chris Keogan. My pal Allan Taylor will be looking ahead to next season and a push to improve his results, Albo faces Welsh Open quarter finalist Joel Walker first up and the draw could have been kinder to him, but he’s more than capable of causing a minor upset there. Either way, again I don’t feel any of the opening four will get past their next opponents Aditya Mehta and Jamie Jones. Jones is struggling for results while playing well, which is never pleasant, but perhaps after something of a career downturn since his Crucible heroics of 2012 he’s beginning to turn the corner. Mehta is a player that I rate highly with an unflappable way about him around the table, he is a threat to anyone on his day, his win ratio is as high as anyone in his ranking position this season and on that basis I’d take him to squeeze through against Jamie. If he does, I think he might continue the momentum against Michael Holt and cause an upset, but if Holt is not to be at the Crucible I think Mehta in this section is the only person that can stop him.
Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Aditya Mehta.
James Wattana v Alex Borg winner plays Marcus Campbell
Sam Baird v John Astley winner plays Jamie Cope
Winner plays Mark King
Season Form: As I write this Mark King is in the Quarter Finals in Beijing but whether he loses there or wins the trophy he’ll be back in plenty of time for his final qualifying match, but who will he be up against? Well, I think this is a section where we may see a ‘first rounder’ make the final match, but whoever it is I don’t think they will beat King. James Wattana should beat Alex Borg but he usually finds one too good eventually these days and for me that player is either Marcus Campbell or whoever he plays after that. I think the dark horse in this section is the winner of the match between Sam Baird and John Astley, two players who are more than capable of raising their games against better players. It’s a match I can’t call though I notice the early prices have Baird a very strong favourite, probably on balance you’d back Sam but that match is no walk in the park for him. Until Jamie Cope starts showing anything like the form he used to he’s impossible to fancy with any confidence, he still wins the odd match but he’s not right, that is crystal clear. If Baird has got that far I think he could turn over Marcus too but realistically this section is set up for Mark King, despite his advancing years and lack of hair, he’s still a hell of a competitor, OK he tends to play his best stuff in China these days but I reckon he’s got one foot in the Crucible already with this draw.
Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Mark King. Worth a Punt: Sam Baird.
Gary Wilson v James Cahill winner plays Tom Ford
Luca Brecel v Lee Page winner plays Yu Delu
Winner plays Matthew Stevens
Season Form: As well as former World Champions Graeme Dott and Mark Williams, another name you wouldn’t usually expect to be playing at this stage is Matthew Stevens, a Crucible semi-finalist as recently as 2012 and twice a runner-up. But he is here by virtue of a season to forget and he is one player that definitely can’t pull the old burnout stunt, his season has gone downhill since a strong start in Wuxi where he reached the semi-final and has never really got going. So is there anyone in this section that can further compound his misery? Eyes will immediately be drawn to Yu Delu, who beat Ronnie in Preston and nearly beat Robbo in Beijing. I expect him to deal with the winner of Luca Brecel and Lee Page (most likely Luca) while in the other section I’d take a punt on Gary Wilson to win through against Cahill and Tom Ford, another who has had a pretty poor season by his standards. So can either of them defeat Matthew? I’d say personally that Delu has the best chance but on pedigree alone I think I’ll have to stick with Stevens. Somehow the Crucible wouldn’t be the same without him.
Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Matthew Stevens. Worth a Punt: Yu Delu.
Classic Champ Ant Parsons.
Chen Zhe v Ant Parsons winner plays Mark Joyce
Michael Wasley v Syd Wilson plays Rory McLeod
Winner plays Robert Milkins
Season Form: This section sees this season’s Snookerbacker Classic Champion Ant Parsons make his World Championship debut in what has been a great year for the Teesider. He’s up against Chen Zhe, a beatable Chinese opponent nicknamed ‘Sleepy’ by his pals. He’ll need to be wide awake to cope with a very determined and ruthless player who take it from me, is a threat to any lower professional the form he is in recently. Also up is SB Classic Quarter Finalist Syd Wilson and he takes on Gloucester’s Michael Wasley who’s had a decent season all in all, hardly ever losing to lower ranked players. The two will have met a few times as amateurs I’m sure and it could be a close affair but Wazza seems to have taken to the professional ranks better than most of his peer group. The winners of these come up against two tough match players in Mark Joyce and Rory McLeod and any of them will have their work cut out there given the experience these two have of grinding out results. Rory holds the upper hand in his meetings with Joyce but Mark does tend to do a little better the longer the format so I’d marginally fancy him to arrive in the final round to play Rob Milkins. I can see that being a close match if it happens and like I say, Joyce does tend to play better over the longer format, but Rob is the second highest seeded player in this event for a reason and he’ll fancy his chances whoever he comes up against from this section you’d feel. I wouldn’t completely rule out Rob’s fellow Gloucester man Wasley though if he gets to this stage.
Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Robert Milkins. Worth a Punt: Michael Wasley.
Robbie Williams v Lu Haotian winner plays Liu Chuang
Li Hang v Ratchayothin Yotharuck winner plays Pankaj Advani
Winner plays Fergal O’Brien
Season Form: Ratchayothin Yotharuck of Thailand is an interesting proposition, his results suggest he’s a pretty poor player at this level but on closer inspection he’s had some very close matches with players ranked much higher than him, he faces Li Hang of China who has beaten some very decent players this season and may fancy his chances in this section dominated by Asian players. Young Lu Haotian who looks about 11 years old is another coming on nicely and his opener against Robbie Williams could go either way with the winner I believe having a decent chance of turning over the inconsistent and frankly underwhelming Liu Chuang. But this is a section where I think that with the possible exception of Yotharuck, any of the other six names could win it. Fergal O’Brien isn’t quite the steely force of old but I’m sure he’ll be bang up for this as he always is and it’s always nice to see him at the Crucible. Pankaj Advani of India will be many people’s pick here and it’s clear he’s a very good player indeed and improving now he has given snooker the lions share of his time over billiards, but I’m going to stick with the Chinese in this one and of the three Chinese players in there, the one I think will pose the biggest danger is first round starter Hang, so I’ll go for him to be a player that can come through from the very first round.
Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Li Hang. Worth a Punt: Lu Haotian.
Tony Drago v Robin Hull winner plays Tian Pengfei
Ian Burns v Fraser Patrick winner plays Jimmy White
Winner plays Peter Ebdon
Season Form: Three familiar faces in this section in crazy Maltese barnpot Tony Drago, the Whirlwind Jimmy White and the man who’s never short of bananas Peter Ebdon. Drago kicks off against Robin Hull, the Finnish player who has been plagued by injury all his career but can still play a bit, I expect the winner in any case to lose to the dangerous but inconsistent Tian Pengfei in the round that follows. Ian Burns has suffered a somewhat similar fate to the last World Snooker ‘Rookie of the Year’ Jack Lisowski and has not really lived up to the tag which last season saw him labelled a real danger man, his match with Scot Fraser Patrick could go either way and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the winner turned over Jimmy White in the next round, Jimbo as good as secured his tour survival in Beijing and I think he’ll be OK even if he loses here, but obviously I’d love to see him and the Nugget in the first round draw. For me though this section is all about Ebdon and Tian and Ebdon has shown enough form in Beijing to suggest he is tuned for this. I again expect the top seed to progress.
Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Peter Ebdon.
Wenbo – Crackers.
Sean O’Sullivan v Mitchell Travis winner plays Martin Gould
Adam Duffy v Igor Figueiredo winner plays Gerard Greene
Winner plays Liang Wenbo
Season Form: This is another section where I believe the winners of the first two matches will lose to their next round opponents Martin Gould and Gerard Greene. It’s good to see that the smiling Brasilian Igor has entered this, he’s basically been strapped for cash so has been unable to fulfill his professional obligations but if he’s been practising he’s not a bad player at all and with the pressure off could easily beat Adam Duffy, a player who has won just one from his last eleven starts. Sean O’Sullivan is another who has struggled with life as a professional and like Duffy has won just one match from his last eleven, he faces amateur Mitchell Travis who famously beat Marco Fu and Kurt Maflin in the UK Championship, potential banana skin for Sean there. Gouldy seems to have lost his way a bit lately and I really can’t think why that is, a meeting against the in-form Gerard Greene who seems to be able to win without scoring very heavily may be enough to see him off for the season. This is all leading up to me saying that I think Liang Wenbo is probably the player who I’d say if someone were to ask me for a ‘certain’ qualifier, his price will reflect this I don’t doubt. A word of caution though, like Poomjaeng, Dale and a couple of others, Greene is a player I hardly ever back and recently that has cost me.
Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Liang Wenbo.
Noppon Saengkham v Vinnie Calabrese winner plays Jamie Burnett
Scott Donaldson v Ahmed Saif winner plays Cao Yupeng
Winner plays Ben Woollaston
Season Form: A very open section this, possibly the most open of the lot. Scott Donaldson should have little more than a warm up in his first match and that will allow him to settle down. Scott is a player I will admit to underrating a little through the season but he’s beaten some decent players and is on an upward curve. Considering his ranking, Thailander Noppon has a decent win ratio this season (W16 L20) and he doesn’t lose very often to players ranked as low as the happiest man in snooker, Aussie Vinnie Calabrese. I don’t actually think that Vinnie is the pushover that some do and I think that match could go either way personally, but I do slightly favour old Noppo. Jamie Burnett has been largely anonymous this season and seems to find someone to beat him in either the first or second match of every event, though a last 16 appearance in the German Masters did break that season cycle and he couldn’t have wished for a nicer section if he can get his game in order. I expected Cao Yupeng to progress better than he has and for some reason he’s suffered what has happened to so many Chinese players in the past, namely, they break through and then immediately start going downhill, maybe the weight of expectation placed on them in their home country is to blame, I don’t know. Anyway, I started by saying this was open, that wasn’t meant as a slight on Ben Woollaston, who is of course the best player in the section, but I reckon whoever faces him will fancy their chances. Gun to head, I’d say Woollaston, but he’s there to be shot at.
Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Ben Woollaston. Worth a Punt: Scott Donaldson.
It’s a thumbs up from me.
Stuart Carrington v Andrew Norman winner plays Jack Lisowski
David Grace v Ross Muir winner plays Nigel Bond
Winner plays Ryan Day
Season Form: This next statement is basically a ridiculous assumption by yours truly but I reckon there are only two possible qualifiers from this section, Ryan Day obviously, as he is in the final match already..and Jack Lisowski, who isn’t. I manlove Andrew Norman and if I was able to handpick three players I’d like to see from the lower professional ranks playing at the Crucible he’d be there with Allan Taylor and The MOD, but I think even he’d agree that he’s not really a live betting proposition to be there. The big man from Leeds and friend of the blog David Grace will no doubt be delighted that I am not tipping him to cause an upset, he does a lot better when I don’t after all. For the record, I think he’ll win his first match, sorry Gracey. I might as well cut to the chase in that I think whoever Jack faces in his first match is in for a bit of a quickfire hiding, even taking into account Stuart Carrington’s improved form of late. Then he’d face either (for me) Bond or Grace, I’ll plump for the former. Either way, again I can’t see Lisowski slipping up. Ryan Day awaits the winner and I think with two wins under his belt, if he doesn’t get carried away, Lisowski can and will beat him. I think the Crucible needs to showcase great young players like Jack and hopefully he’ll get a chance to build on his debut there last year, where like so many future winners before him, he was slightly overawed.
Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Jack Lisowski.
Mike Dunn v Rhys Clark winner plays Matt Selt
David Morris v Alexander Ursenbacher winner plays Thepchaiya Un-Nooh
Winner plays Michael White
Season Form: Again as I write, Mike Dunn is playing in the China Open having done fabulously well there (he’s just beaten Selby in the QF’s), he’ll hopefully arrive to play his first match on Wednesday morning and however he gets on with what is left of his amazing week in Beijing he may be suffering some sort of after-effect. But here’s my opinion, I don’t think Mike will qualify anyway, he’s done what he had to do over in Beijing and has even in the meantime secured a future there as a coach if he wants it, he’ll be delighted, elated at ever so slightly living the dream and eventually I think it will catch up with him, it’s bound to and this again just goes to show how ridiculous this cramped schedule is. Therefore the player I see progressing in this section is the hungrier and definitely less tired Matt Selt, who is also in decent form himself. With respect to Ireland’s Davy Morris and Swiss Alexander (a distant cousin of mine) I’d also expect the very decent Un-Nooh to progress from there. It then becomes all about Selt and Un-Nooh for me. Selt has beaten him twice, including over this distance and I think they are both progressing at more or less the same rate. Either way, the winner plays another player who like his mate Jamie Jones will be looking to return to a place with great memories in Welshman Michael White. Michael has been playing very well of late but my concern with him is always the pressure he puts himself under, and so, I reckon the winner of Selt and Un-Nooh may be the outside punt here after a confidence boosting win, I’ll plump for Selt.
Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Matt Selt.
The Outlaw: Bit of a Crowd Favourite.
Alex Davies v Joe Swail winner plays Anthony Hamilton
Li Yan v Elliot Slessor winner plays Dave Harold
Winner plays Xiao Guodong
Season Form: This section could produce some real grinding stuff. Tough matchplay and a loyal crowd is always guaranteed when Joe Swail enters the fray, he remains a real people’s player does Joe. He’s got a really tough opener against Alex Davies but he’ll know how tough that is and expect Joe to go into the match, as only he does and can, for the long haul. He’ll probably win 10-9 at around 2 o’clock in the morning after needing 2 snookers on the blue or something. Joe has no recent form to speak of, but since when has that mattered with him? If he wins he plays Anthony Hamilton from Pottingham, a player who admits to getting a bit tired after a couple of days snooker on the bounce but who has all the talent in the world. We also have Elliot Slessor from the North East, a great player and one of Jimmy’s protege’s, he faces one of the weaker Chinese players in Li Yan, so should progress if he plays his natural game, he’ll then go to school with Dave Harold. Either way, I reckon this section is about which of the older blokes get through to have a crack at Guodong, who for me is probably the third best Chinese player on the tour. The draw is tailor made for Xiao. Or is it?
Predicted Crucible Qualifier: Xiao Guodong. Worth a Punt: Dave Harold. Always Worth a Punt: Joe Swail.
RECOMMENDED FIRST ROUND BETS
5 point acca on Steadman, Highfield, Wells, Leslie and Donaldson pays just over 2/1 at Ladbrokes (I got just over 3/1 at Paddies on this before posting)
4 point acca add Wattana, Brecel and Wasley pays bang on 11/2 at Ladbrokes.
2 point acca add Kyren and Gary Wilson pays almost 10.5/1 at Ladbrokes.
2 point treble on O’Neill, Carrington and Swail pays over 3/1 at Paddy Power.
2 point double on Slessor and Figueiredo pays almost 6/1 at William Hills.
TO QUALIFY RECOMMENDED PUNTS
3 points on Jack Lisowski at 5/1 with William Hills.
1 point on each: Li Hang 14/1 Apollobet. Dave Harold 7/1 Apollobet. Yu Delu 5/1 Apollobet. Scott Donaldson 9/1 Apollobet. Michael Wasley 16/1 Apollobet. Lu Haotian 28/1 Apollobet.
You can view match prices at Apollobet here and their To Qualify Prices here