Three-and-a-half months after it was originally scheduled to take place, and after lots of will it or won’t it, the Betfred World Snooker Championship begins inside the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield on Friday. Due to the nature of the world we have left it as late as possible to produce an outright preview but hopefully those of you who want to get on the bets can do.
Judd Trump won the tournament last April and it is he who will have the honour of kicking off the tournament on Friday, as he bids to become the first man ever to win the title at the Crucible for the first time and retain it the following year. There will be a small crowd in the venue to see if he can do it.
2019 – Judd Trump
2018 – Mark Williams
2017 – Mark Selby
2016 – Mark Selby
2015 – Stuart Bingham
2014 – Mark Selby
2013 – Ronnie O’Sullivan
2012 – Ronnie O’Sullivan
2011 – John Higgins
2010 – Neil Robertson
I’m sure everyone knows the format by now but for those who are unsure of it, it is long course snooker all the way over this 17 day marathon. The first round is the best-of-19 frames which goes up to the best-of-25 for the second round and the quarter finals. The semi-finals at the best-of-33 frames and then the four session final will see a champion crowned on the third Saturday and Sunday over the best-of-35 frames. The draw was conducted on Wednesday.
The defending champion is always the number one seed in this tournament whether he is ranked there or not. As it is Judd Trump is number one in the rankings as well. The ‘Crucible Curse’ will be mentioned every third word while he is in this tournament. There are three other seeds in this section of the draw. Kyren Wilson has already had a touch as he has won his opening match without having to step foot in the venue. Stephen Maguire enjoyed one of the best weeks of his career at the Tour Championship last month and is a dark horse to go well from this quarter for so many judges. Yan Bingtao is the other seed in the section and he showed at the Players Championship how good he can be.
There are only three qualifiers left in this quarter of the draw after the withdrawal of Anthony Hamilton on the eve of the tournament. The three remaining qualifiers are all of decent quality it must be said. Tom Ford has been to a couple of ranking semi-finals this season and will be out for a first win inside the Crucible when he takes on Judd Trump. Martin Gould has quality to burn and after a terrible couple of seasons looks to have his mojo back so he is dangerous too. Elliot Slessor is a debutant here but you only have to ask Ronnie O’Sullivan how dangerous he can be.
The Tour Championship finalist Mark Allen is the highest ranked player in a wide open second quarter. He is yet to win this title but having won The Masters last year big titles are within his compass now. John Higgins has lost in the last three finals here. The four-time winner of the tournament will look to go one better from this quarter. Also in this section is the man who was a terrible contact away from dumping Higgins out in the semi-final last year in Dave Gilbert, while Jack Lisowski is seen by many as one of the most talented to ever pick up a cue.
There is a decent level of qualifier in this part of the draw, spearheaded by the twice beaten finalist in this tournament Matthew Stevens. The Welshman loves a long format and qualified in style to take his place here. Anthony McGill dropped only two frames in qualifying and will fancy his chances of a deep run while Kurt Maflin has a score to settle with the Crucible Theatre. Another debutant makes up the quarter in Jamie Clarke, a player who saw off Joe Perry among others in qualifying and should be written off at your peril.
The third quarter is loaded with former champions of this tournament and it is the man with the most to lose who is the highest ranked player in it in Mark Williams. Williams is defending the money he won when he lifted the title two years ago so he needs a big run to avoid serious damage being done to his ranking. There is the prospect of a quarter final with Ronnie O’Sullivan looming for him though as the Rocket sits ominously in this quarter. The 2015 champion Stuart Bingham is out for another Triple Crown event to go with the one he won at The Masters earlier in the year while there are plenty of judges who believe Ding Junhui is the best player never to have won this event. If he puts that to bed from this quarter, the UK Championship winner will have done very well.
The qualifiers from this quarter probably don’t match up to the first two I think it is fair to say, although Thepchaiya Un-Nooh finding himself in it and drawing Ronnie O’Sullivan is a tantalising prospect. Recent semi-finalist Alan McManus will be out to discover the form that took him to the last four in 2016 while Ashley Carty will be out to show Stuart Bingham that his ranking is very much a false one. Mark King came nicely through qualifying to make up the quarter.
There are world champions everywhere you look in the bottom quarter this week. Neil Robertson has been one of the players of the season to date and the 2010 winner will be out to dominate the section but the three-time champion Mark Selby will be one who will be looking to deny him. 2005 champion Shaun Murphy was second in the seedings for the Tour Championship which highlights how good his campaign has been. 2013 beaten finalist Barry Hawkins is the other seed in an absolutely loaded quarter.
We have a couple of debutants and a couple of Asian players among the qualifiers for this quarter. The two debutants are the Swiss ace Alexander Ursenbacher who played very well in qualifying and Jordan Brown who overcame the challenge of Ryan Day to take his place in the draw. Noppon Saengkham has been here before with little success so he’ll be looking for a first win while Liang Wenbo sets the standard among the qualifiers and he could be very dangerous if given the chance.
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Shaun Murphy was my fancy for this tournament before lockdown delayed it and he remains my fancy for it. Although he was beaten early in the first round of the Tour Championship, he made six centuries in a 9-8 loss to Mark Allen so he was clearly in good form. He’ll be playing with a bit of emotion after his manager sadly passed away recently and a player with a purpose is never a bad one to be on. Murphy has had a great season. He won the China Championship and the Welsh Open and made two other finals as well along with a bunch of semi-finals, one of which being The Masters which is pretty significant. We know Murphy is scoring well and his safety has been a lot better this term. He’s extremely motivated to win this title and at 16/1 is my best bet for it.
I’m convinced qualifiers are going to go well in this tournament. While many of the seeds haven’t had a competitive hit for 6-7 weeks, they have played anything between 2-4 matches over the last 10 days and that is a massive advantage. It is levelled out by the environment and TV experience and things but I believe plenty of qualifiers will enjoy themselves. One in particular is Anthony McGill who only dropped two frames in qualifying. In the 16 frames he won there he made eight 50s and a couple of tons so he’s playing well again after a disappointing season. The Scot has been to the quarter final here before but he’s in the open second quarter where you can make a case for many. At 125/1 he might be overpriced for a deep run.
I’ll take a chance on Martin Gould in the top quarter. It looked like his career was coming to an end but lockdown has allowed him to find the love for the sport again and if qualifying is anything to go by he is back playing some of his best stuff. He came past Graeme Dott to qualify for this and that is a really good result. He’s now a 66/1 shot to win this quarter with a path to the quarter final being Stephen Maguire who has a terrible recent record in this tournament having lost in the first round in five of the last seven years, and a second round clash with a Kyren Wilson who hasn’t played competitively since the early stages of the Championship League, and he didn’t play great there either it has to be said. That would see Gould in the quarter final which we would need him to win for the payout but other than Judd Trump he would be no worse than a 6/4 shot against anyone else he could meet there. If something happens to Trump early doors there could be a big price winner of this quarter and that could be Gould.
In the second quarter I’ll take my outright bet Anthony McGill at a big looking 20/1. Mark Allen looks like being the biggest danger but whether he is ready to go the distance in this remains to be seen. Higgins would be another but he was all over the gaff in the Tour Championship and periods of time without a hit never does him any good. That aside the section is wide open so if McGill can get rid of Jack Lisowski and get himself into the tournament he could well do plenty of damage from there.
Stuart Bingham is something of an enigma at the minute. He has done nothing in the ranking events this season but has won The Masters, while his record here since he won the tournament is nothing to write home about, but at 7/2 I think he’s the one to beat in the third quarter. Whenever you bet in a quarter with Ronnie O’Sullivan you need to know you are on someone who embraces that potential challenge and Bingham certainly does. He has beaten him here before and he beat him at the Championship League. Ding is far too hit or miss for me to like and he could get O’Sullivan early doors while Mark Williams will be under pressure defending that big cheque he won two years ago. Whatever happens here Bingham has had a good season winning The Masters so he’s under less pressure and with Ashley Carty likely to afford Bingham the chance to work his way into the tournament he should pick up from there.
I’ll go with a couple of special bets as well with the first of them coming in the player to make the highest break. This is a bit of a lottery market but there are some big prices around and considering he has made two 147s this season the 100/1 on Tom Ford making it has to be big. The downside is that he might not win many frames against Judd Trump but even then he only needs a huge contribution to have a shot. Were he to beat Trump though there is nothing in his quarter to fear him. Ford has made 25 centuries this season including a 143, 141 and a 139 as well as those two maximums. If he does have longer than one match in this tournament the 100/1 on him hitting the highest break might just get threatened.
I’ll also take the 7/4 on four or more qualifiers to make it through to the second round. It is four out of 15 with Anthony Hamilton out of the draw but there are some qualifiers who have nice draws. More importantly there are enough seeds who haven’t had much game time recently compared to these qualifiers who are all match sharp. The likes of Matthew Stevens, Alexander Ursenbacher, Anthony McGill and Alan McManus face opposition who haven’t played much competitive snooker recently. When you throw in the likes of Liang Wenbo, Tom Ford, Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Martin Gould who are all capable of seeing off their seeded opponents we have enough players running for us to get four qualifiers over the line.
Back S.Murphy to win World Championship (e/w) for a 2/10 stake at 17.00 with 888sport
WON – Back A.McGill to win 2nd Quarter for a 1/10 stake at 21.00 with 888sport
Back A.McGill to win World Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 126.00 with Betfair
Back him here:
Back M.Gould to win 1st Quarter for a 1/10 stake at 67.00 with Sky Bet
Back S.Bingham to win 3rd Quarter for a 3/10 stake at 5.00 with William Hill
Back him here:
Back T.Ford to make highest break for a 1/10 stake at 101.00 with Coral
WON – Back 4 or more qualifiers to reach L16 for a 3/10 stake at 2.75 with BetVictor
Back it here: