The third round of the World Championship qualifying competition gets underway on Saturday, which sees the highest ranked players in the field enter the event as they set about winning the two matches they need to in order to make it through to the Crucible Theatre.
The players coming into the event in this round are ranked between 17-48 in the world, so we should see a clear elevation of the standard from what we’ve seen so far, but the drama and tension isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.
It is a 128 player event but this competition should be thought of as 16 eight player tournaments with each tournament winner progressing to take their place in the main draw. The first round sees those ranked 81-128 in the world and the 16 invited players battling it out. The 32 winners then progress to take on players ranked 49-80. Those winners go through to meet someone ranked 17-48 in the third round and the 32 winners from that round meet in the final round with the winners going into the main draw. The first three rounds of the tournament are the best of 11 frames with the final round the traditional best of 19.
The beaten semi-finalist of last season is the headline act on the TV table in the afternoon session when Gary Wilson gets his bid to return to the Crucible Theatre underway. He might not have it all his own way though as he faces the Swiss ace Alexander Ursenbacher who had a good win in the first round. Scott Donaldson is the man given the honour of being the seeded player in the streamed table. He starts his qualifying campaign against the Welsh youngster Jackson Page who has come through nicely thus far.
The outside tables are going to be full in this session and two of them look very tasty indeed. They are the ones which sees Anthony Hamilton going up against a Sam Craigie who looks like he has the bit between his teeth at the minute, and Noppon Saengkham taking on Michael White, who showed all his battling qualities in the previous round. Andrew Higginson’s tour life is at stake when he takes on Daniel Wells while Martin O’Donnell will go up against Mike Dunn. Ben Woollaston had a wonderful Championship League campaign and he begins qualifying against Elliot Slessor while the other match sees the talented Lu Haotian taking on Eden Sharav.
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Masters finalist Ali Carter will be disappointed not to make it through to the Crucible by right, meaning he has to win two matches to make it there, the first of which can be seen on the TV table as he takes on Louis Heathcote. The streamed table will see Jimmy White attempting to move to within a win of making it back to the Crucible Theatre after all these years when he meets a Robert Milkins who hasn’t been in the best of form for the last year or two but who may well be inspired by this contest.
Six matches take place on the outside tables in the evening session. On one of them we have the former European Masters winner Jimmy Robertson going up against Ashley Carty, while Matthew Selt meets the in form Allan Taylor on another. Kurt Maflin takes on Joe O’Connor in what is probably the pick of the matches in this part of the arena, while Luca Brecel faces Fergal O’Brien in another good game. Liang Wenbo plays Alfie Burden in a match that should have plenty of fireworks and the last game sees Alan McManus meeting Wu Yize.
There are a few bets I like the look of over the course of the day but I’ll settle with four of them, three of them being outsiders. The one favourite I’m backing is Andrew Higginson to see off Daniel Wells. Higginson was under no pressure whatsoever against Hayden Staniland in the previous round but the fact he was on the table and getting his cue arm going again can’t be a bad thing. Wells hasn’t pulled up any trees this season and hasn’t played since the Championship League where he was competitive without being great. Higginson has to win this match to keep his hopes of remaining on the tour relatively safe and I think that motivation will see him through.
Elsewhere in the afternoon session I like Michael White to see off Noppon Saengkham. I’m on White to qualify so maybe I shouldn’t get involved again but this isn’t the final qualifier so I’m happy enough to play him here. The Thai looked like he was going to really progress into the top 32 and beyond last season, but this term has been one more of a struggle and he hasn’t played a competitive frame in anger for almost five months. White was better than his results suggested in the Championship League last month and he played pretty well under pressure in the previous round here. I think the 6/4 on him to build on that win is a little too big to ignore.
Moving into the evening session, the way Allan Taylor played in the previous round I have to back him to beat a Matt Selt who never really convinces me under the pressurised tag of being a favourite. Taylor has already earned me some corn this week and went on a scoring spree in the second round with three centuries including a 145 against Lee Walker. You don’t make those sorts of breaks if you are not hitting the cue ball nicely and given that he has his tour place secured for next season he can play with a little bit of freedom. I don’t think Taylor will be truly under pressure until he is one win from the Crucible. Selt might be lacking a competitive rep and Taylor looks a big price.
The other man who I think is worth taking on in the evening session is Alan McManus. With his TV commitments in the two tournaments since the restart to date he hasn’t been on the table under the competitive lights for a while, and you have to go right the way back to the Scottish Open before Christmas for the last time ‘Angles’ won a match. He goes up against the Chinese teenager Yu Wize, who has already beaten two half-decent challengers in Ashley Hugill and Robbie Williams. I’m not convinced McManus is too much of an upgrade on the latter and with Wize knocking in breaks of 60, 79 and 59 against Hugill as well as 71, 134, 58, 51, 54 and 53 in beating Williams, he looks primed to see off McManus.
WON – Back A.Higginson to beat D.Wells for a 3/10 stake at 1.90 with William Hill
Back A.Taylor to beat M.Selt for a 3/10 stake at 2.75 with William Hill
Back them here:
Back M.White to beat N.Saengkham for a 3/10 stake at 2.63 with Coral
Back Y.Wize to beat A.McManus for a 3/10 stake at 3.60 with Coral