World Snooker Championship Futures

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World Snooker Championship Futures
Shaun Murphy. AFP PHOTO/PAUL ELLIS (Photo by PAUL ELLIS / AFP)

The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

July 31 – August 16

The Crucible Theatre hosts the World Snooker Championship over three months later due to the COVID-19 hiatus. Judd Trump is the defending champion and no first-time champion has defended their title at the Crucible Theatre with the jinx being known as the Crucible Curse. All the sport’s greats Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Mark Selby, Mark Williams and others have all failed to defend their first World Championship since the Crucible Theatre started hosting the event in 1977.

WST have been given the go-ahead from the British Government to trial crowd participation in the coming event with the numbers reduced to circa 350 from the original 950 capacity of the Crucible Theatre. The Crucible Theatre is a special venue for snooker (spiritual home) and the unique atmosphere will not be as strange now to the players as it would have been playing to an empty arena. This can only help the likes of Judd Trump, Neil Roberson and Shaun Murphy who all struggled to focus at the recent sterile events.

Main Draw

Judd Trump vs. Tom Ford 

Yan Bingtao vs. Elliott Slessor

Stephen Maguire vs. Martin Gould 

Kyren Wilson vs. Anthony Hamilton

John Higgins vs. Matthew Stevens 

David Gilbert vs. Kurt Maflin 

Jack Lisowski vs. Anthony McGill 

Mark Allen vs. Jamie Clarke

Mark Williams vs. Alan McManus 

Stuart Bingham vs. Ash Carty

Ding Junhui vs. Mark King

Ronnie O’Sullivan vs. Thepchayia Un-Nooh 

Mark Selby vs. Jordan Brown 

Shaun Murphy vs. Noppon Saenghkam 

Barry Hawkins vs. Alexander Ursenbacher 

Neil Robertson vs. Liang Wenbo 

Top 16 seeded players are exempt to the Sheffield Crucible Theatre stage and their chances are analyzed below. Can Judd Trump break the Crucible Curse?

1. Judd Trump

As mentioned above for Judd Trump to win this year’s event after his first World Championship would break a jinx in the modern game that stretches back to 1977.  This perceived Hoodoo will attract much unwanted attention for Trump during the lead up to the World Championship.  It remains to be said that Trump has been the standout snooker player in the last twenty months and winning this tournament would bring seven world ranking titles in a season, another record.  

Judd Trump is on record as stating that he wants to break records and it’s accurate to say this would be an outstanding achievement if he does. Since the COVID-19 hiatus at the Championship League and the Tour Championship Trump looked along way from his best, at times looking exasperated with himself.  He certainly sounded peeved in his post-match press conference after losing to Stephen Maguire in the Tour Championship semifinal.  He has since had three weeks to prepare mentally and physically for the World Championship, he remains the man to beat.

2. Neil Robertson 

Amazing that the Australian Neil Robertson only has the one World Championship back in 2010 despite being at the top of the sport for the last decade.  In fact, there have been several occasions during the last two season’s he has looked better than ever having won four ranking titles and the prestigious Champion of Champions where he beat Judd Trump in the final impossibly the highest quality match of the season.  

It is possible that he hasn’t produced his best snooker in recent seasons because he has been a little jaded from a long season.  Therefore, the COVID-19 hiatus allows Robertson to come here fresh and that can only work to his advantage.

3. Mark Williams

It’s fair to say on current form that three times World Champion Mark Williams flatters him and is set from the ranking points he earned as the second oldest ever champion era in 2018 (loses those ranking points after the event).  

Williams has no form coming into the event but snooker fans will still have him winning his third title, fifteen years after his second, fresh in their minds.  Easily passed over as a betting alternative.

4. Mark Allen

The Northern Irishman looked sharp at the Tour Championship when he lost in the final having broken a run of six semifinal losses during the current season.  There were times he could have taken control early in the final but looked a little nervous but it was a step in the right direction.  

Allen also lost two stone during the COVID-19 hiatus, this can only help him for the seventeen-day marathon ahead at the Crucible.  He already has one triple crown title and appeared comfortable in the post COVID lack of atmosphere environment.  He will fancy his chances and rightly so and from the weakest quarter he looks a solid bet to reach the semifinal.

5. John Higgins 

Runner up for the last three years in the World Championship John Higgins will need the Crucible to inspire him again after a below average campaign.  Stranger things have happened in sport but Higgins advancing years have been evident from a decline in his break building.  Still a difficult opponent for all and the Crucible Theatre is where he plays his best but the four-time champion from Scotland is overlooked.

6. Ronnie O’Sullivan 

The Rocket has played a light schedule in the 2019/2020 season and is unusually without a title all season.  He has looked better focused and more composed in recent months while it’s plausible he will be fine this year at the World Championship.  

Remember one of his five World titles was won when it was his only event of the season and he is a player who plays well fresh.  In recent season’s he has looked like a man not ready to endure the seventeen-day marathon at the Crucible Theatre after long and successful seasons.  This year is different in every way and he has pulled the most difficult first round draw against Thepchayia UnNooh but warrants the utmost respect as he seeks a sixth world title.

7. Mark Selby

Three-time World Champion, Mark Selby has had a strange season, often looking out of form in the bigger events.  That said, he won the English and Scottish Open’s in the home nations series over short formats.  You rule the Leicester man out at your peril and he could be inspired by the fond memories the Crucible Theatre hold for him from recent years.

8. Kyren Wilson

Twice semi finalist at the World Championship Kyren Wilson has had a low-key season by his high standards.  After winning the German Masters in 2019 he mentioned he was going to change his technique with a view to moving to the next level.  

The German Masters was an event on the snooker calendar after hard work by the late Brandon Parker who as well as a World Snooker board member was Wilson’s manager.  His results have stalled since although no one works harder at their game and the passing of Brandon Parker may make Wilson an even more determined opponent this year.

9. Stephen Maguire 

Stephen Maguire comes to the Crucible Theatre of a strong season that saw him win the Tour Championship last month, his first ranking title for six seasons since the 2013 Welsh Open.  He also reached the UK Championship final losing to Ding Junhui, won the World Cup with his good friend, John Higgins and the World Six-red Championship.  With such a huge renaissance in form and by proving the ability to play in the sterile atmosphere Maguire has a realistic chance of winning this year.

10. Shaun Murphy

Like Maguire, Shaun Murphy has had a remarkable year to re-establish himself at the top of the sport.  Early finals in the Asian swing were followed by winning the China Championship and Welsh Open completing a turnaround in form from the previous season when he lost nine first round matches.  He has worked hard with his coach, tinkering with his technique while working hard on the safety aspect of the game with practice sessions against fellow professional, Fergal O’Brien.  

This year looks a great opportunity time in his second world crown although he has just suffered the sad loss of long-term confidante and friend to snooker Brandon Parker.  Grief is a difficult and unique process for us all but there have been instances of career defining performances in sport from those who are suffering the process.  It remains to be seen how it will affect him but his price has been the value all year long.

Shaun Murphy+1400
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11. Ding Junhui 

It has been a strange lopsided season and recent years for the Chinese superstar who has looked forlorn, at odds with himself many times when playing.  All that ceased at the UK Championship as he beat Ronnie O’Sullivan on his way to a second title (2nd most prestigious in the sport).  Impossible to know what to expect from Ding but if he is playing well enough to beat Ronnie in their scheduled round of 16 match, he probably wins the World Snooker Championship this year.

12. David Gilbert 

All snooker fans can remember last year’s deciding frame loss in the semifinal versus John Higgins and Gilbert’s heart-breaking interview afterwards with Rob Walker.  Gilbert’s best performance this season was reaching the semifinal of the Masters and losing to his nemesis, Stuart Bingham.  The Tamworth man has served notice of his capabilities as a top player who plays well in the spotlight and it is time to step up to the next level.

13. Jack Lisowski 

The 2019-20 season has been a disappointment for the supremely talented left-hander from Cheltenham who has struggled for consistency.  The highlight was reaching the final of the Scottish Open where he lost to Mark Selby.  

Without doubt, his high tariff style of play and laissez-faire attitude has been exploited by his opponents on numerous occasions this season and it remains to be seen if he can focus for two session matches let alone seventeen days.

14. Stuart Bingham 

Stuart Bingham won the Masters at the start of 2020 on what has been a disappointing season in ranking events by his high standards. Even when winning the Masters unusually Bingham didn’t manage a century break.  If the former World Champion rediscovers his normally notable break building prowess he would be an underdog with a chance this year.

15. Barry Hawkins 

Barry Hawkins enters a venue he has performed supremely well in over the last decade under pressure.  The former finalist at the Crucible, ranking is in decline and in need of a confidence boost for his mental wellbeing.  A maximum at this season’s UK Championship proves his game is still in good order so if he can get his mind right he has plenty of fond memories of World Championship’s past to draw on.

16. Yan Bingtao 

Yan Bingtao started 2019/2020 In style by winning his first ranking title at the Riga Masters when still a teenager.  Since he has gone from strength to strength, firstly, when reaching the UK Championship, beating Neil Robertson and John Higgins along the way to suggest he has the pedigree required.

Just before the COVID-19 hiatus he reached the final of the Players Championship only to lose to Judd Trump.  With all those factors considered he is capable of a deep run in this year’s World Championship.

Qualifiers

With the qualifying wrapped up on Tuesday evening there are sixteen players we need to mention that are respected but also sharp. 

Firstly, lightning-quick Thai, Thepchayia Un-Nooh who was within a couple of pots of knocking out Judd Trump in last year’s opening round encounter.  He is a much-improved performer this season and has more natural talent than anyone but importantly has the ability to blow opponents away in quick-fire spells of brilliance that see him rack frames up at an extraordinary rate.  Thailand has a second player to represent them this year in Noppon Saengkham is a methodical break builder of quality and a dangerous opponent for all.

The best-known name to come through qualifying was Matthew Stevens, twice a runner up in the World Championship and former winner of both the UK Championship and the Masters.  A class performer who has hinted at mini revivals in-form several times in the last couple of seasons reaching this year’s UK Championship quarterfinal and a semifinal in China the year previous.

Liang Wenbo has hinted he is close to his best form and the mercurial talented produced a remarkable 141 total clearance in the deciding frame of his final qualifying match against Irish veteran Fergal O’Brien.  This former English Open champion best performance at the Crucible Theatre was in his rookie season when he made the quarterfinal.  He is totally unpredictable but has beaten most the sports top players over the years.

Norwegian, Kurt Maflin has only reached the Crucible Theatre on one previous occasion when he lost to three-time champion, Mark Selby 9-10.  Maflin has always been a talented break builder but is becoming a more consistent factor on tour in recent years and looks one of the more dangerous qualifiers.  Another talented break builder amongst the qualifiers is Tom Ford who has made two maximum breaks this season. He is an inconsistent performer who once in his stride floats around the table fluently and is a dangerous first round draw for all the top 16 seeds.

Veteran Scot Alan McManus made it through against two of the sports’ hottest youngsters Wu Yize and Louis Heathcote.  It was only four years ago that he reached the semi final as a qualifier and will not be overawed by the iconic venue.  Scottish counterpart Anthony McGill looked sharp in qualifying and is working his way back into form having dropped out the World’s top 16 a couple of seasons ago.  He made the quarter final here in his rookie season and shares a practice facility with fellow Scots John Higgins and Stephen Maguire, we know how well Maguire played in the recent Tour Championship.

Four-time quarterfinalist, Anthony Hamilton qualified for the first time since 2008, a player beset by back problems in recent years he remains one of the highest-class break builders the sport has ever known.  The Sheriff of Pottingham will not be overawed by the Crucible Theatre after many years prior to 2008 being a permanent fixture there.  Anthony Hamilton won the German Masters a couple of seasons ago and the year before Martin Gould won the German Masters.  Gould produced the shock of the final round of qualifying when he beat former World Champion Graeme Dott.  Another veteran who knows the Crucible Theatre well is former Northern Ireland Open champion Mark King made it through a tense final round of qualifying from a 3-6 deficit against Ian Burns.

Crucible Debutants

Elliott Slessor claim to fame previously was beating Ronnie O’Sullivan twice and now the North East player has the chance to emulate the feat of his fellow Geordie Gary Wilson who reached last year’s semi final on his debut.  Ash Carty is another debutant who by winning his way through qualifying retained his playing privileges for the next two seasons.  His performance in the Championship League was eye catching and this solid break builder must be excited for his debut after several seasons of struggle while learning his craft.  Jordan Brown from Northern Ireland produced a major upset in the final round of qualifying when he beat Ryan Day.  

Something of a late bloomer in the sport Brown had already beaten Stuart Bingham and David Gilbert twice this season and is another debutant this week.  Switzerland has their first representative ever at the final stages as Alexander Ursenbacher makes his debut.  A fast naturally talented player has previously produced deep runs in the shorter format of the game and now has the chance to fulfill his potential in the purer form of the sport.  Last man to make it through was Jamie Clarke whose previous claim to fame was reaching the semi-final of the shootout.  Like Carty he needed to qualify to regain his playing privileges and after beating Joe Perry in the second of three matches he did it impressively.

World Snooker Championship Betting Picks and Predictions 

This year’s list of qualifiers in theory looks the weakest ever, we know however, that it may not play out that way.  There are several reasons, firstly, COVID-19 meant talented China youngsters like Zhao Xintong and Zhou Yuelong didn’t enter.  Secondly, Graeme Dott, Ali Carter, Ryan Day, Joe Perry and last year’s semifinalist Gary Wilson were all major casualties of qualifying.

I really didn’t expect many bets but then the draw is made and throws up the matchups I was looking for that in general suit the underdog.  Strange old year…

Three gnarled veterans of the Crucible like Matthew Stevens, Alan McManus and Anthony Hamilton have all been to the quarter finals or further on numerous occasions but with their ages approaching fifty the seventeen-day marathon will be harder than ever.  They have all drawn opponents they are comfortable against and have live first round chances. 

Liang Wenbo and Anthony McGill both made quarter finals of the World Championship in their rookie seasons and have the class required to go deep with McGill pulling a favourable draw

In theory the most dangerous opponent is Thepchayia Un-Nooh who has looked a danger all season and looks closer to fulfilling his massive potential than at any other time in his career.  Remarkably he has drawn the Rocket Ronnie O’Sullivan in the tie of the opening round.

Four fluent players, Kurt Maflin, Tom Ford, Elliott Slessor and Alexander Ursenbacher have had several deep runs in ranking tournaments during the last couple of years and look capable of breaking through at the Crucible this year.

In conclusion, the seeds always hold more advantages at the Crucible Theatre than any other venue and with crowd participation this year it looks to hold sway again.  The long-standing hoodoo of first-time champions and his recent poor form mean defending champion Judd Trump needs to he opposed.  

In the outright market Shaun Murphy has been overpriced all season and his form represents the third-best chance behind Trump and Robertson while he stands fifth in the betting market at +1400 at BetOnline.  He seems the value look for this year’s World Snooker championship.  I was taken by the way Anthony McGill performed in qualifying and he has a history of producing his best snooker at the Crucible Theatre as a quarterfinal appearance in 2015 illustrates.  He has been given a favorable first round draw and the weakest quarter making him a longshot selection for Quarter 2.

World Snooker Championship Betting Picks 

  • Shaun Murphy @ +1400

World Snooker Championship Longshot

  • Anthony McGill – to win quarter two @ on request

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