It has been an amazing effort to get the snooker season to take place in light of the various restrictions in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the reward for that is that we get a World Championship which takes place in its traditional slot, beginning at the Crucible Theatre on Saturday.
Ronnie O’Sullivan won the title last year in a competition where the crowd was sent for 14 of the 17 days however the plan is to have an audience in for every day this year. He and the other 31 players in the field turn up in search of the iconic glory.
2020 – Ronnie O’Sullivan
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
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 Sunday and Monday over the best-of-35 frames. The draw was conducted on Thursday.
Even though he isn’t the number one in the world, as the defending champion for this tournament Ronnie O’Sullivan assumes the number one seed spot and will begin his title defence on Saturday morning as is tradition. He is actually the only former winner of this event who is seeded in this section of the draw because the other three seeds are Anthony McGill, the semi-finalist from last year, Stephen Maguire whose record here is terrible for a player of his quality, and Ding Junhui who isn’t a lot better save for making the final once.
There is another former world champion lining up in this part of the draw though. That comes in the highest ranked qualifier Stuart Bingham, who will fancy his chances of going well if something happens to O’Sullivan early doors. The other seeds are solid enough in this section but might have to find a little in their game if they are going to come out of it. They are Ricky Walden, Mark Joyce and Jamie Jones.
I regularly say it in these seeded draws and once again the most open section of the draw is the second quarter. Three times champion Mark Selby is the highest ranked player in this quarter but there are world titles all over it as there is also the four-time champion of the world John Higgins, as well as Mark Williams who has lifted this famous trophy on three occasions. Mark Allen hasn’t yet won this title but he is surely good enough to despite his poor record here.
There is some real talent among the qualifiers in this part of the draw. We have one of the two debutants in the field in Sam Craigie, while Lyu Haotian performed very well in the final qualifying round to snuff out the threat of Chang Bingyu. Tian Pengfei powered past Graeme Dott in the final qualifying round to take his place in this quarter but the leading qualifier may well be the quarter finalist of last season, Kurt Maflin, who saw off Robert Milkins to get this far.
Neil Robertson is the leading light in this part of the draw. He goes in search of a second world title over the course of the 17 days here. That would be a third big title this season to add to the UK Championship and Tour Championship crowns he has already won. If he is going to come through this part of the draw he’ll have to play well as the beaten finalist of last year, Kyren Wilson, is also in this quarter. Barry Hawkins has a good record at this venue which he’ll be looking to extend here while Jack Lisowski has been one of the best players of the season.
If that wasn’t enough this is the quarter with probably the toughest set of qualifiers. Liang Wenbo has been here on plenty of occasions and he is actually the lowest ranked player of the eight in this section. That is because the other qualifiers are the twice former finalist Ali Carter, the semi-finalist of two years ago in Gary Wilson and arguably the best of the lot from a form standpoint in Matt Selt, who is still the reigning Indian Open champion.
The world number one Judd Trump has no Crucible Curse nonsense hanging over his head this time and he isn’t going to run into nemesis Kyren Wilson in this quarter either. He might need to get the better of Shaun Murphy at some point if he is going to progress though. Trump has won five titles this season and would dearly love to make it six but he also has The Masters champion Yan Bingtao in this quarter as well as the semi-finalist of two years ago in Dave Gilbert, who is defending £100,000 on his ranking here.
The qualifiers by and large in this quarter aren’t as strong as they are in the other ones although that might be doing a disservice to Martin Gould who probably should have done better here than he has in the past. Mark Davis has qualified for the tournament once again while Chris Wakelin has not just made it here but saved his professional status in the process. The other man in the draw is Liam Highfield who took care of the highest ranked player in the qualifiers in Zhou Yuelong to be here.
The betting for this tournament would suggest that the title will be in the hands of either Judd Trump, Neil Robertson or Ronnie O’Sullivan two weeks on Monday. It might well be but Robertson has been to the one table setup once since he won the title in 2010 so taking him at 5/1 just can’t be value. He’s a good frontrunner but get him in a battle, particularly a tactical one and his success rate isn’t high.
Defending this title is not easy and O’Sullivan would have to go the full 17 days to do it given that he opens up the show. History tells us he doesn’t cope very well for that length of time. Then there is the favourite, Trump. He is a worthy favourite but he has exited early in the only two tournaments away from Milton Keynes this season citing the poor conditions for failure both times. It is the way of the world that these tables will play tough from time to time here. We are in a time of the year where the temperatures and weather is unsettled and unlike in Milton Keynes people will be coming and going throughout. He has the class to lead these a merry dance but his price doesn’t reel me in.
I actually think this is a wide open betting heat. If you are betting purely on the snooker we’ve seen this season then the best snooker was played by John Higgins at the Players Championship. That was two months ago though and he hasn’t won a match of any significance since then. Mark Selby has won two tournaments but his form has hit the skids recently while Mark Allen was brutal at the Champion of Champions but has been poor since then and his record here offers no encouragement. Jack Lisowski has been the second best player of 2021 overall but his record in two session matches and longer is shocking.
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I’ll take two against the field in this tournament. The first of those is a Mark Williams who is a massive price at 45/1. Forget all that cobblers he spouts about not caring and not being good enough. He will want to win this as much as the next man even if losing isn’t the end of the world for him. He’s plenty good enough to win this thing as well. He won it three years ago and is playing no worse right now. He looked very good in making the semis of the Welsh Open and was scoring for fun in the Championship League recently. That Championship League was probably a godsend for him because he admits he doesn’t practice as much these days so he got some great work in there. He’ll have practiced for this and I think he comes in here with a leading chance. It took the best version of O’Sullivan to take out Williams in the quarters last summer and Williams is playing better now. He has Sam Craigie in the first round which isn’t a bad draw as he is on debut here. Then it gets tougher but Williams looks to be hitting the ball brilliantly and is overpriced at 45s.
Another player who is overpriced based on what he has produced in the last few months is Matthew Selt. He is probably best known in that time for dumping Stephen Hendry out of the Gibraltar Open, a tournament he made the semi-final of taking care of Barry Hawkins and Kyren Wilson in the earlier rounds. Going back to the UK Championship he made five tons in a match in the first round. It was only against Amine Amiri so he wasn’t under pressure but only two others have made five tons in a best of 11. I only mention that because in qualifying for the World Championship he made six tons in the 16 frames he won, against two seasoned opponents. Two of those tons came in the last two frames against Nigel Bond when he made 50 breaks to come from 2-5 to 4-5 and then slammed in a 142 and 110 to win 6-5. Three more followed against Scott Donaldson in the final qualifying round and he admitted in interview afterwards that his game has never been in better shape. That’s a big quote for a player who is a ranking event winner. It might only have been the Indian Open that he won back in 2019 but he beat Tom Ford and John Higgins along the way that week. He isn’t in the easiest part of the draw but if someone gets rid of Robertson this could open right up. At 250/1 I can’t ignore a bet here.
I’ll also play the 33/1 on Selt to win his quarter. He doesn’t have it easy in any of his matches but his opponent won’t have it easy against him either and a worst case scenario run of Hawkins, Kyren Wilson and Robertson doesn’t equate to a 33/1 shot in my eyes. I’ll also play the top and the bottom quarter where in the top quarter I like Stuart Bingham. The qualifying competition wouldn’t have been the route he would have wanted to take into this tournament but he might have tuned him up nicely and the two 140 breaks he made against Luca Brecel in the final qualifying round suggests he is hitting the ball well and scoring heavily. I think he’ll beat Ding in the opening round and then it is all about Ronnie. Bingham has beaten him here before though so I’ll play the 8/1 on him to win this quarter.
The other bet I’ll go with is Yan Bingtao to win the bottom quarter. This one is all about Judd Trump and he should win the quarter but Bingtao is The Masters champion and I believe he’s a world champion in waiting. Like most who have gone before him, he will probably need to taste the one table setup before he wins the title which puts me off backing him to win the title outright but he’s no 15/2 shot in a clash with Trump. I expect Bingtao to make the quarter final so I’ll pay to see a) if Trump gets there and b) if Bingtao can show his form of earlier in the year and beat him.
I’ll go with a couple of specials over the tournament as well. I’m going to stick with Stuart Bingham in one of them and that is the highest break. He is 25/1 with Coral to make the highest break in the tournament. This is a player who is no stranger to making 147s and who slammed in a couple of 140s as recently as Wednesday. He has never hidden the fact he wants all he can get out of snooker and there is a decent highest break prize this week which I’m sure he won’t turn down if he can have a crack at it. If Bingham gets past Ding like I think he will then he’ll have something like at least 20 frames to nail a big ton which might well get the job done. Remember Higgins’ 147 last year was the first since Hendry did it in his final match as a professional the first time around in 2012. We’re not necessarily looking for a maximum as the highest break here even though Bingham can make them. He’s scoring well enough to be overpriced at 25s.
I’ll also take the 5/6 on over 4.5 qualifiers to make it through to the last 16. Three qualifiers – Ricky Walden, Ali Carter and Stuart Bingham are in what some bookmakers have priced up as 50:50 matches and then you have other seeds who are vulnerable either on their form coming into the tournament such as Shaun Murphy and maybe even Mark Selby and those who have poor records in it such as Stephen Maguire and Mark Allen. I think Selt beats Barry Hawkins in the first round so you can make a case for half the qualifiers without even mentioning quality players on their day like Gary Wilson, Martin Gould and Liang Wenbo. These qualifiers are match sharp which isn’t the case for the seeds. We saw five of 15 qualifiers make it through last year as Anthony Hamilton was a no show and one other qualifier, Mark King, went out in a deciding frame. I expect to get another five through this year.
Back M.Williams to win World Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 46.00 with Coral (1/2 1-2)
Back M.Selt to win 3rd Quarter for a 1/10 stake at 34.00 with Coral
Back Y.Bingtao to win 4th Quarter for a 1/10 stake at 8.50 with Coral
Back S.Bingham Highest Break for a 1/10 stake at 26.00 with Coral
Back M.Selt to win World Championsihip (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 251.00 with Betfair (1/2 1-2)
WON – Back S.Bingham to win 1st Quarter for a 2/10 stake at 9.00 with Betfair
Back Over 4.5 qualifiers to make last 16 for a 3/10 stake at 1.83 with Betfair
Back them here: