2021 World Snooker Championship Predictions

Right, thanks to the wonderful folks at WST who have given us less than 48 hours from the draw until the start of the World Championships, I’m not going to go on a long preamble. You know how this works by now. Quick preview of the matches, I’ll give each qualifier’s World Ranking (as of the end of the Qualifiers), along with the Head2Head of them, provided by the fine folks at CueTracker. Right, allons-y!

Match 1: (1) Ronnie O’Sullivan vs. (42) Mark Joyce
H2H: Ronnie 2-1 Joyce

So we begin with the defending six-time champion of the world. Calm, composed, consistent, all things that Ronnie usually is. But this season’s been a little strange for him, as there’s been a distinct lack of winning anything. He’s reached five finals, a further semi-final, and two Quarter-Finals. But this is the Crucible, in front of fans, and Ronnie will be pumped for Number 7.

The words “Baptism of Fire” come to mind for Mark Joyce. The 37 year old from Walsall has finally made it to the hallowedest of grounds after 15 years of trying, and two previous visits to the final qualifying round. Forever an under-appreciated player, Joyce is almost a professional journeyman in the sense that he’s consistently been on tour since 2006, but has never really made headlines, waiting until 2019’s Riga Masters to reach his first ranking final.

Don’t be fooled though. He’s got one hell of a backbone, he’s become increasingly good at making big breaks in recent seasons, and has absolute acres of experience. He did very well on Judgement Day to hold off Igor Figueredo, and if he gets going he will be a huge threat. I do think Ronnie will win comfortably in the end, but I think the man from Walsall will cause him some issues and the Rocket will have to play well.

Prediction: Ronnie O’Sullivan 10 – 5 Mark Joyce

Match 2: (16) Anthony McGill vs. (32) Ricky Walden
H2H: McGill 1-0 Walden

How weird is it that these two have been professional at the same time for 11 years, and yet they’ve only ever faced each other once? McGill has had a decent season if not spectacular (then again after that semi-final, he might be thankful for that!), and has peaked with three Last 16s. He’s been pretty consistent, and on his day is capable of slamming in ton after ton, as he has done at times this season. He’s also extremely gritty, to the point where I’m pretty sure they had to scrape him off of the table last summer.

Meanwhile, how good is it to see Ricky Walden back in good health? After all the issues he’s had with his back in the past few years, to hear him talk about being largely pain free is great. Because he is a mighty fine player. Like McGill he’s gritty, but he’s better to watch in the balls I feel. The only way I can think of describing his style is like a graceful ballet dancer who lives a double life as a street fighter (don’t laugh). He’s got this way of floating the cue ball around the table, but he’s a scrapper when he has to be.

This will be a mighty fine match. Both players go for their shots, but they don’t take reckless risks either. They aren’t defensive players, but they will scrap through a 50 minute frame no issue. It’s likely to be close throughout, and both will get chance to show exactly what they’re made of. As for the winner? Ricky looked in really good touch against Ryan Day on Judgement Day, and I think that bit of match practice will prove the difference.

Prediction: Anthony McGill 8 – 10 Ricky Walden

Match 3: (9) Ding Junhui vs. (17) Stuart Bingham
H2H: Ding 6 – 10 Bingham

This is the tie which will set tongues wagging. Ding has been more consistent this season than his past couple of campaigns, but he’s still not been brilliant. It honestly feels like he’s been going through the motions since he won the UK Championship last season, and while he has reached four Quarter-Finals this season in Ranking events, he’s won only a single match since the end of January. But on his day, Ding is still more than good enough to win the competition.

On the other hand, Stuart Bingham has won this, six years ago. His drop out of the Top 16 wasn’t a dramatic fall though; rather, it was years of rather indifferent form and disappointing results. He’s been slightly better in the second half of this season, reaching a couple of Quarter-Finals himself, but ultimately failing to win the Pro Series sealed his fate of having to qualify. He’s become a bit of a 147 addict, having made four in just over two years and two in less than two months earlier in the season. As his nickname of Ball-Run suggests, he’s also subject to some excellent luck sometimes.

This is a match which could very much grace the one table setup. Two players who are highly experienced, two players who have been right at the top-end of the game for many a year. If Ding brings his game, he could easily take this one, and comfortably. But on current form, he isn’t the same force he was, and I think Bingham has a point to prove. I’ve got the qualifier winning here, and comfortably.

Prediction: Ding Junhui 6 – 10 Stuart Bingham

Match 4: (9) Stephen Maguire vs. (62) Jamie Jones
H2H: Stephen Maguire 0 – 1 Jamie Jones

Ah the age old battle between potential and consistency. Stephen Maguire is… how do I put this… unpredictable. On his day, he can slaughter almost anybody in the game with a relentless barrage of potting and the occasional good safety. There’s an old analogy I think of in snooker – when your game is good, you’re good. Stephen is sort of the opposite. With him, when he’s feeling good, his game is good. When he’s not feeling good though, then literally anything could happen.

Now here’s a little bit of an oddity. Jamie Jones is the lowest ranked player in the draw at 62. The oddity is that Jamie is such a good player. Not the most prolific century maker, but he has a certain knack for just keeping breaks going long enough to take frames. He’s also very adept at taking the scrappier frames, picking off 30 or 40 breaks here and there, keeping it tight. He passed the test of the qualifiers with flying colours, beating off David Lilley, Michael Holt, and Li Hang.

The reason I called this potential vs. consistency is because Maguire “should” beat Jones. If Mags is playing near his peak, then he will win. But that’s a big “if”. Because he has a top gear which he almost never finds. Jamie has experience, but he’s playing with freedom, and he has a real wind behind him. I think that will blow him towards a shock.

Prediction: Stephen Maguire 7 – 10 Jamie Jones

Match 5: (5) John Higgins vs. (57) Tian Pengfei
H2H: John Higgins 3 – 0 Tian Pengfei

John Higgins went into last year as a three-time consecutive finalist, but after beating Matthew Stevens (in a match he probably should have lost), he lost in an all-time great match to Kurt Maflin, in a massive shock. So what can he do this year? Well, he’s played absolutely superbly at times, and his win at the Players Championship saw an absolutely rampant performance, including a 6-0 victory against Mark Selby where he conceded seven points in six frames, and overall has had a highly successful season, winning his 31st ranking title at the Players Championship.

Between that and the head to head, Tian has his work cut out. The man from Dalian has had a pretty awful season (not helped by months of self-isolation), but very much turned up at the Qualifiers, a solid win against Sunny Akani followed by surviving a comeback from Graeme Dott (winning 10-7 having lead 8-1), making three tons in the process. A very confident player, Tian has reached four Ranking Quarter-Finals, losing all of them, and is difficult to get under the skin of.

No matter how confident he is though, he’s still got it all to do. Higgins is a major contender this year, and he’s going to take some stopping. There are plenty of players who could stop him if he doesn’t reach top form, but if he’s at the peak of his game, there’s only a few who will be able to stand up to him. And for all his talent, Tian Pengfei is not one of them.

Prediction: John Higgins 10 – 3 Tian Pengfei

Match 6: (12) Mark Williams vs. (50) Sam Craigie
H2H: Mark Williams 2 – 0 Sam Craigie

From a four time World Champion to a three-time World Champion. Mark Williams has had three Semi-Finals this season, including a tournament win. Which would be even more impressive if that didn’t include the Pro Series (best of three frames) and the Shootout (which I am NOT getting into here however much you’d love it). Other than that he’s actually had a good season, especially for someone who doesn’t really care. One of the best one-ball potters in the game, Willo reached the Last 8 last year and you have to imagine he wouldn’t mind a fourth World title.

Now anyone who knows me knows that I’m a big fan of Sam Craigie, who I might add, I predicted to get through the qualifiers. From 3-0 and 5-2 down against Zhao Xintong, Craigie fought like a lion and eventually managed to hold himself together for an 89 in Frame 19 to take the match. Sam is a funny player who when he turns up, can beat anybody. He’s a little bit of a short-form specialist (3rd in the Pro Series this year), but he proved at the Qualifiers that he can really hold his own, and he has absolute buckets full of bottle.

This will be a great match most likely. Sam will not be intimidated by the spotlight, and he will not be overawed by playing at the Crucible, and Mark will respect the threat that he provides. Should Willo not bring his A game, Sam has a real shot at causing the upset, because once he gets going, he is such an attacking player that he’ll basically take on everything, and when they’re going in, they’re all going in. Ultimately though I do think Williams will hold out and claim a nervy victory. Make no mistake though – Serious Sam is a serious talent.

Prediction: Mark Williams 10 – 7 Sam Craigie

Match 7: (13) Mark Allen vs. (53) Lyu Haotian
H2H: Mark Allen 2 – 0 Lyu Haotian

Some matches just scream “Instant Classic!”. This match is not one of them. Mark Allen, such a good player. But his season’s really not been that good, with one Quarter-Final, and he has a pretty rancid record in Sheffield, losing the past two years in Round 1 to Zhou Yuelong and Jamie Clarke respectively. The problem with Allen is against top class opponents, he never seems to have a Plan B. He’s brilliant when they’re going in. But if they’re not going in, he just isn’t the same animal. To me he almost looks disinterested at times. And it’s a shame, because when he won the Masters, we all thought that he’d finally come of age. Now he’s 35 and hasn’t won an event in around 29 months (nearly 2.5 years).

And looking to make it three first-hurdle exits in a row for the Pistol is Lyu Haotian. Still only 23, Haotian first turned pro back in 2013, but had actually reached his first Ranking Quarter-Final the previous year, aged only 14. Since then I don’t think his career has quite taken off the way he was hoping or that people were expecting. From my experience of his matches, he’s a very silky player who just seems to slip around the table, almost like a ghost. He just quietly gets on with his business and doesn’t make a fuss. It’s actually a surprise to me that it’s only his second visit to the Crucible.

Ultimately, Mark Allen is vulnurable when he isn’t making the big breaks and the difficult shots just aren’t on target. However, he has developed a real backbone, and while Lyu is doubtless an excellent player, I just don’t think he’s a heavy enough scorer to really trouble the man from Antrim. I wouldn’t anticipate this one living long in the memory, but hey, I’ve been wrong before.

Prediction: Mark Allen 10 – 6 Lyu Haotian

Match 8: (4) Mark Selby vs. (21) Kurt Maflin
H2H: Mark Selby 2 – 1 Kurt Maflin

Why do my favourites have to play each other? It’s not fair! Fine, since I like both of them I’m at least guaranteed to be impartial. This is interesting because they played each other at this stage 6 years ago. In fact it was the last time they faced each other, with Selby winning that one on a decider, having somehow thrown away a four frame lead twice in the match.

The question here is this: is the old Mark Selby back? My answer is that he never left. There’s this misconception that the old Mark Selby was a player who only ever played to about 20% of his potential but won by keeping his opponent behind a baulk colour all the time. In reality, that was just one weapon. He won because he had better safety than everyone else, he took his chances, and he mastered the art of winning frames from near impossible situations. During his lean period, it’s not that he lost the ability to do these things, it’s that he kept tinkering with his technique, and that was getting in the way of playing his natural game.

But he’s very much been back this season. Of the 14 ranking events, he’s reached the Quarter-Finals of 9 (3 QF defeats, 3 SF defeats, a Final defeat, and two titles). And if we’re being honest, it’s arguably an even better Selby we’ve seen. Because this time around, Selby is consistently scoring better. He’s turning more chances into frame-winning contributions, and he’s made 51 Centuries this season, the 5th best season of his 22 season career, and the 4th most of anybody this season.

He could have asked for an easier match in Round 1 though. Kurt Maflin is a real handful, and he looked great in the qualifiers, making three tons against Jak Jones (including two in the first two frames), and then crushing Robert Milkins 10-4. Maflin reached the Top 8 last year and he didn’t do that by accident. He did that by playing well and sticking to his natural game. And don’t get me started the Viking Split.

This is a match that you can imagine I’m very much looking forward to, and I honestly believe the winner will be a serious contender to take home the title. Selby is rightfully the favourite, and will take a lot of beating after his tremendous season. But, I just have a slight hunch…

Prediction: Mark Selby 8 – 10 Kurt Maflin

Match 9: (3) Neil Robertson vs. (26) Liang Wenbo
H2H: Neil Robertson 7 – 3 Liang Wenbo

If you pay attention to the head to head this should be an open and shut case. Neil Robertson has won two events this season, including the UK Championship, where he beat Judd Trump in an exhausting match. He’s also taken his career century count up to 777 (as of writing), fourth of all time. His win at the Tour Championship was also his 20th Ranking title.

So Liang has a tough task ahead of him. The Firecracker is a real battler, and has a massive heart. He’ll never give up on himself, but he’s struggled for consistency. He’s had a mediocre season, with five Last 32s (including three of the Home Nations events) being his highlight. To be honest, highlights are hard to come by for him in recent times, and at 34, he feels as far away from the higher echelons of the game as he has in a long time.

Simply put, Snooker’s quality is moving on from where Liang’s inconsistencies can be outweighed by a quick burst, or an opponent throwing in some loose ones. It feels like he’s stayed still and is slowly being overtaken by the rest of the tour. His position in the Top 32 is as much because of people losing money from their rankings as they are his own performances. Both the previous BO19 matches between these two have finished 10-5, but with how Neil’s played this season, I don’t think this will be nearly as competitive.

Prediction: Neil Robertson 10 – 3 Liang Wenbo

Match 10: (14) Jack Lisowski vs. (23) Ali Carter
H2H: Lisowski 1 – 2 Carter

Right, who at Betfred has a grudge against Lisowski? The past three years he’s been seeded at the Crucible, and who’s he drawn? Ali Carter, Anthony McGill, and now Ali Carter again. I’ve never known a seed have such atrocious luck of the draw. Anyway, I would say Jack’s had a great season, but at this point I don’t think it will be a “great” season until he actually wins something. Which might happen if he ever stops facing Judd in the final. They’ve faced off in all 3 of Lisowski’s finals this season, and Jack’s lost them all, because somehow, he’s incapable of playing well on big occasions against Judd.

Now Ali Carter is a player who looks like a totally different animal this season. After a somewhat disappointing effort last season (hell, his best effort last season was in an event he didn’t initially qualify for), he’s been fantastic this season, reaching a 10th ranking final and knocking in tons for fun at times. He had to battle in the Qualifiers, but after seeing off Pang Junxu, he cruised past the talented Alex Ursenbacher.

You know what you’re going to get here. There’s going to be big breaks, there’s going to be a lot of tension, and you know there’s going to be gritty match play. This match finished 10-6 two years ago, but I think Jack believes more now that he belongs at the top table. A win here would be a great statement to put out – Jack is no longer the soft underbelly of the 16.

Prediction: Jack Lisowski 10 – 8 Ali Carter

Match 11: (11) Barry Hawkins vs. (29) Matt Selt
H2H: Hawkins 5 – 4 Selt

Match 11 with Seed 11, and a second match which went to a decider in Round 1 in 2015 when the seeded player lead 8-4. No, you’re not skipping back to Selby vs. Maflin, but the similarities are amazing. Barry has had a major revival this season, having been out of the Top 16 provisionally for about half the season. Three semi-finals are a much better return for someone who has been out of form for some time. He’s highly consistent, and has an excellent record in Round 1.

But he’s got a stiff challenge here in an in-form Matt Selt. Selt reached the Semis in the Gibraltar Open last month, and looked mighty fine against Scott Donaldson to qualify. An absolutely explosive player when he gets going, Selt by his own admission has massively underachieved, but he feels like he’s finally found his groove and is on the verge of a massive breakthrough in the game. He’s won one ranking title and it could turn into more in the future.

This is hard to call, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we had another decider. Ultimately I’m going with the form book, and the form book tells me that Barry Hawkins will not have this his own way. But with Selt, one never knows.

Prediction: Barry Hawkins 9 – 10 Matt Selt

Match 12: (6) Kyren Wilson vs. (33) Gary Wilson
H2H: Kyren 6 – 3 Gary

No, I’m not making the obvious joke. Kyren was runner-up last year, but after his spectacular semi-final, he put in a damp squib of a showing against Ronnie in what should have been the biggest match of his career. Including the Champion of Champions, Championship League and the Masters, Kyren has been in a quite frankly absurd 11 Quarter-Finals this season. Which would be better but for the fact he’s won 3. In fact his only titles are the two variants of the championship league.

Gary Wilson was good in qualifying, but the semi-finalist from two years ago has had a dreadful season, only progressing beyond the Last 64 on one occasion before this, and in fact went around four months without winning a single match. The Tyneside Terror is undoubtedly a great player, but depression and other factors have caused his game to drop off dramatically.

This isn’t going to be an easy match for Kyren, but I’m struggling to see how Gary will really cause him huge problems. The man from the Tyne needs to get his game together in the close season, because that semi-final feels so much longer than two years ago now.

Prediction: Kyren Wilson 10 – 5 Gary Wilson

Match 13: (7) Shaun Murphy vs. (49) Mark Davis
H2H: Murphy 10 – 7 Davis

Shaun has had a pretty rough season. Being based in Ireland hasn’t helped as it means he’s gone months without seeing his family at times due to travel restrictions, but it can’t be debated. Shaun seems to believe he’s played well and has just come up against people playing out of their skin, but I’m unconvinced personally. He has a semi-final to his name though, which is more than a lot of players can say.

Mark Davis on the other hand, has had an even worse season, as this is his first appearance at the Last 32 stage of an event since October. And to make it this far he needed an incredible comeback from 7-2 down against Jamie Clarke. Davis is an incredibly solid player, but it feels like he’s faded so much since his English Open final in 2018.

Surely Smurph can’t mess this one up. Davis has reached this stage 11 times previous, but he’s only won 3 of those matches, and none since 2013. Murphy if playing well is always a massive threat, and I for one hope that he does go far. He’s a fantastic representative of the sport.

Prediction: Shaun Murphy 10 – 4 Mark Davis

Match 14: (10) Yan Bingtao vs. (24) Martin Gould
H2H: Yan 3 – 1 Gould

Yan is the reigning Masters Champion, and it feels like he’s become the big Chinese hope for a first world champion. Which is a little bit unfair really. Yes he’s good, but I don’t think people factor in the sheer gruelling nature of this tournament. People expect everything immediately, forgetting he’s barely 21 still. Other than that it’s been a rather flat season for him, he’s not beyond the Quarter-Finals of an event, and his last one of those in a Ranking event was November. He’s a massive talent, but pressure can crush talents if it gets too heavy.

Martin Gould on the other hand is just totally revitalised. The Pinner Potter came within a whisker of a 2nd Ranking title at the European Masters at the start of the season, but lost a decider to Mark Selby in an absorbing match. Since then it’s been a bit up and down for him, he’s struggled to chain good results together. The important thing for Gould though is he’s feeling better about his game, and seems to have found his scoring boots again.

I honestly fancy Martin for this match. Yan is REALLY good, but he’s still young, and I think he’s still a little bit negative with his shot selection on occasion. Martin will put him under pressure, and won’t panic when behind, and I think the Gouldfather has this one.

Prediction: Yan Bingtao 8 – 10 Martin Gould

Match 15: (15) Dave Gilbert vs. (59) Chris Wakelin
H2H: Gilbert 1 – 0 Wakelin

Dave Gilbert really needs a good run here, because provisionally, he is a long way outside the Top 16. He’s reached a Quarter-Final this season, but for a player who had been threatening to break the door down to win an event, he’s now not reached a final in 18 months. It’s a shame for such a talented player as well, and Gilberto seems like such a lovely guy.

Another lovely seeming guy is Chris Wakelin. He’s back after almost taking out the Juddinator in 2018, and was superb in seeing off Matthew Stevens and then Xiao Guodong in a gripping encounter to qualify. He’s such a smooth player, and has hit a little bit of form, form which has seen him keep his place on tour. He’s happy with his game again, and he will surely be ranked much higher than 59 in twelve months’ time.

I can honestly see Wakelin taking this one. Gilbert has been out of sorts for a long while now, and he will have all the pressure on him now Wakelin’s tour card is very much safe. It’s the man from Nuneaton I’m backing here, while the farmer gets stuck in the mud (I’m sorry, it’s the best farming pun I had).

Prediction: Dave Gilbert 7 – 10 Chris Wakelin

Match 16: (2) Judd Trump vs. (43) Liam Highfield

Snooker’s galactic overlord, fashion icon, victim of a conspiracy, a penniless pauper, is there anything Judd Trump doesn’t believe he is? I’ll get to talking about Judd’s… comments some other time, but it’s no secret that this blog isn’t a huge fan of the Ace (just ask the blog’s Twitter bio, @M18Snooker). Judd’s looking for the scarlet pimpernel of Snooker here, title #6 of the season. Trump has this habit of playing badly right until he needs to play well, and then suddenly playing like a god again.

So what chance does Liam Highfield have? Well, he is a very talented player, he’s a real bulldog, and he won’t be daunted by facing Trump. In fact, he probably loves the draw. His win over Zhou Yuelong was terrific, and it netted him a second visit to the theatre. Last 32 his best this season, but he has reached a Ranking event Quarter-Final before.

I think Trump will win here, but it won’t be easy, because Highfield will scrap for every point. He’s used to scrapping, and I don’t think Judd will be prepared for the fight he’s going to face. And not just because he believes everyone should bow at his feet. Do I think he’ll win? Yes. Do I think he’ll win a second world title? Not this year.

Prediction: Judd Trump 10 – 6 Liam Highfield

CHAMPION PREDICTION: Neil Robertson

Psychic Zone: 2021 World Championship Predictions

Right, because I’m notoriously fantastic at these, I’m going to predict every qualifier from the world qualifiers. With the rather trim brackets, I’ll quickly run through my predictions for the earlier rounds, and go into some depth for the last round. All images are from Wikipedia, as it was the only place I could find a sufficiently small yet clear image.
(Oh, and there will be references to the tour survival battle in this. You can find loads of Tour Survival blogs online, I’m not doing one this year due to time constraints)

Bracket 1

Tip: If you’re having a bet, bet on Highfield to have a decider. Of the 16 Best of 7 or longer matches he’s played this season, 7 have gone the full length.

Straight in then with the draw that’s caused the most arguments regarding the validity of the draw. My short take on it is that I don’t care either way. If this was deliberate, then it’s good marketing (if a little crusty). If it’s not deliberate (which is entirely possible, I think the odds are around 1/32, don’t take that as gospel though), it’s mighty convenient.

Hendry 3-6 White, Xu 6-4 White, Zhou 6-1 Xu

Surety 3-6 Fan, Highfield 6-3 Fan, Slessor 6-5 Highfield

Bracket 1 Final: Elliot Slessor vs. Zhou Yuelong

This is a match I would happily watch two sessions of. Two young players who look to have a very big future in the game, and two players who have improved massively in recent times. I remember people talking about whether Zhou really had the backbone to win a tournament after his 9-0 loss to Neil Robertson in the European Masters final in Austria last January. And honestly, he didn’t. Not then anyway. Now though, he’s developing that steel.

Elliot is all backbone meanwhile (not literally, I don’t want a biologist coming on here explaining anatomy to me, I have made my own anatomy book before). There’s not many players who will keep playing their game no matter the scoreline, but Sless is one (he showed that at the Crucible last summer). If Zhou has any mental weaknesses, someone like Slessor could find him out.

Bracket 1 Prediction: Elliot Slessor 7-10 Zhou Yuelong

Bracket 2

Tip: Don’t bet on Matt Selt at all. He’s so unpredictable that it isn’t worth it.

Doherty 6-2 Walker, Bond 6-4 Doherty, Selt 6-2 Bond

Lines Jr. 6-4 Emery, Lines Jr. 6-4 Dale, Donaldson 6-3 Lines Jr.

Bracket 2 Final: Matthew Selt vs. Scott Donaldson

Well this could clearly go either way. Make no mistake, both of these two can beat anybody on their day. I think Selt’s game has a higher ceiling, but I think that Donaldson finds his game more often. So without sounding like I’m sitting on the fence, it will all depend on whether Selt finds his game. If he plays to his best, very few players in the world would beat him. If he’s at his worst, I could beat him (and I’m an awful player). Ultimately I think he’s going to be playing with more fire this time after his showing on Judgement Day last year, and it’s going to be a second successive failure at the final hurdle for Donaldson. (seriously can we get these guys some nicknames? I’m open to suggestions!)

Bracket 2 Prediction: Matthew Selt 10 – 4 Scott Donaldson

Bracket 3

Tip: If Jak Jones ends up facing Barry Pinches, feel free to set aside an entire weekend. It isn’t going to be pretty and it sure as hell ain’t going to be quick

Fraser Patrick 6-1 Leo Fernandez, Joe O’Connor 6-3 Fraser Patrick, Robert Milkins 6-2 Joe O’Connor

Barry Pinches 6-2 Jamie Wilson, Jak Jones 6-5 Barry Pinches, Kurt Maflin 5-6 Jak Jones

Bracket 3 Final: Robert Milkins vs. Jak Jones

Now this is a difficult one to predict. Not just because of how difficult a player Jak is, but because of the one real fault in Rob’s game for me – he gets dragged into long safety battles too easily. Sometimes he’s overcautious and allows his opponent to start dictating play. You don’t want to do that in a long match, especially against someone who already has a reputation for slowing the pace down somewhat. Make no mistake however, Jones can go full aggressive, with seven centuries this season and a high break of 125. I think this will be closer than you might expect, but ultimately, the Milkman always delivers.

Bracket 3 Prediction: Robert Milkins 10 – 8 Jak Jones

BRACKET 4

Tip: Soheil is in good form and really attacks the game. Back him to get a couple of centuries.

Gao 6-4 Davison, Lyu 3-6 Gao, Saengkam 6-1 Gao

Vahedi 6-0 Leclerq, Chang 4-6 Vahedi, Ford 6-3 Vahedi

Bracket 4 Final: Noppon Saengkham vs. Tom Ford

Two men who qualified last year. It’s always going to be a fun match when two players as composed as these two are in the balls, because you just know you’re going to get a hatful of points being scored. Noppon has improved a lot over the past couple of years and is just so composed in the balls these days. His safety game is also excellent, and that’s where I think he may have Ford beat. But Ford is a century machine, and can blow you away with the greatest of ease. I’m feeling a decider here. It just would.

Bracket 4 Prediction: Noppon Saengkham 10 – 9 Tom Ford

Bracket 5

Tip: Reanne lost 6-3 to Hicks last year. Expect it to be closer this time.

Hicks 5-6 Evans, Sharav 6-3 Evans, Dott 6-0 Sharav

Castle 4-6 Benzey, Tian 6-1 Benzey, Akani 3-6 Tian

Bracket 5 Final: Graeme Dott vs. Tian Pengfei

Right, this could be interesting. We all know how good Dotty is, and he’s got a pretty great qualifying record. But his season has been extremely unremarkable, with only a single venture beyond the Last 64 in ranking events (I was as shocked as you likely are). And that will give some hope to his opponent. Sadly for Tian, his record isn’t any better, and in fact he’s not been beyond the Last 32 at all. Tian is incredibly inconsistent, but when his game comes together he’s a fantastic player. He’s just going to wish it wasn’t Graeme Dott he was up against, because the Pocket Dynamo is as durable and canny as they come.

Bracket 5 Prediction: Graeme Dott 10 – 5 Tian Pengfei

Bracket 6

Tip: Amiri’s not beaten another professional player on tour. I know it sounds harsh, but don’t be afraid to tip a 6-0. And look at me ignore my own advice

Lilley 6-1 Amiri, Jones 6-2 Lilley, Jones 6-3 Holt

Sargeant 6-4 Kenna, Higginson 6-2 Sargeant, Li 6-4 Higginson

Bracket 6 Final: Jamie Jones vs. Li Hang

This is going to be a hard one to predict. Just in case you were out of the loop, Jamie Jones was suspended from the tour in October 2018 for failing to report a match-fixing approach, and eventually banned from playing for a year. This suspension lead to Jones dropping off the tour, but he’s since come through Q School and has earned the 22nd most this season, which has catapulted him straight up to 69th in the world, meaning that he could end up having a significant play in who stays on tour. He’s come back more focused and with a chip on his shoulder, which has powered him through the season.

Li Hang’s also had a very good season, reaching the Semis at the Scottish Open, and largely outplaying Ronnie O’Sullivan in that Semi-Final. He’s very much a confidence player – when he’s feeling good about his game he’ll play very well. When he’s got issues with his game he’ll struggle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an “average” performance from him. But he’s got a very good safety game, and while it’s not talked about much, he can easily take the game away quickly.

Both of these two are good to watch, and are very even tempered on the table. It’s not a match which is going to be decided in the first few frames, it’s likely to be nip and tuck the entire way. It’s not likely, but I’m hoping this match is streamed (presuming my predictions are correct which… well we all know the chances of that), because it’ll be a very entertaining clash. As for the prediction? A decider. Toss a coin. Heads says Jones, Tails says Li.

Bracket 6 Prediction: Jamie Jones 9 – 10 Li Hang

Bracket 7

Tip: Erm… not a lot to go off here. How about betting on one of Lawler and Borg withdrawing their pension before their match finishes?

Zhao J 4-6 Muir, Robertson 6-3 Muir, Lu 6-2 Robertson

Lawler 6-3 Borg, Yuan 6-2 Lawler, Liang 6-3 Yuan

Bracket 7 Final: Lu Ning vs. Liang Wenbo

Two players who have had very different seasons here. Lu Ning has had the season of his career, and is quickly becoming very much a hard player to beat. He’s not the most graceful to watch, but there’s something of a scrapper about him. He’ll fight for every point, and his form in the past couple of years has seen him go from 65th in the world to 32nd in less than two years (he’s now ranked 36).

Liang Wenbo is a very confusing player. I know I keep saying it, but he is so good. The only thing is, he sometimes lacks the application. Everything is there in his game, it’s just that he has a tendency to lose parts of his game, and he takes on more than he can manage. I think he’s someone who could really benefit from just taking time out and repackaging every part of his game, working on everything from scratch.

But Liang is a regular in Sheffield, and a real fan favourite. If someone’s going to stop him they’ll have to play well. But just maybe, Lu Ning is that player. He’ll certainly upset the natural aggressive game of Liang, and if he can throw him off of his game, then there’s a good chance of a shock here.

Bracket 7 Prediction: Lu Ning 10 – 6 Liang Wenbo

Bracket 8

Tip: Iulian Boiko is incredibly good for someone so young, and also very composed. I’d back him to get at least three frames.

O’Brien 6-4 Fergal Quinn, Carrington 5-6 O’Brien, Davis 5-6 O’Brien

Clarke 6-3 Boiko, O’Neill 4-6 Clarke, Perry 6-4 Clarke

Bracket 8 Final: Fergal O’Brien vs. Mark Davis

Fearless Fergal is back again. And knowing Fergal, he’ll give everything he’s got, and the fantastic thing about him is that he knows how to scrap over the line. He’s not going to play any differently if he’s 9-0 up or 9-0 down, and that is absolutely admirable. He’s not won many matches this season, but it doesn’t make him any more difficult to face. And over the longer format, that experience is key.

Joe Perry doesn’t lack experience though. The Gentleman has been around forever, and has been in and around the Top 16 for two decades. It’s hard to describe his playing style because he is just a good all rounder, which kind of reflects his season really – he’s had a Quarter-Final, and other than that he’s just hoovered up a few wins here and there, never doing terribly but never doing amazingly either. Fergal will push, but Gent will be just too strong here, and nobody will want to draw him in Round 1.

Bracket 8 Prediction: Fergal O’Brien 4 10 Joe Perry

Bracket 9

Tip: Don’t be surprised if the 3rd round involves four men of different nationalities

Figueiredo 6-2 Ajaib, Williams 6-5 Figueiredo, Un-Nooh 4-6 Williams

McLeod 6-2 Ochoiski, Hamilton 6-4 McLeod, Joyce 4-6 Hamilton

Bracket 9 Final: Robbie Williams vs. Anthony Hamilton

This would certainly be interesting wouldn’t it? Robbie (no not that one) has done extremely well this season after staying on the tour via the one year list last season, reaching the Last 8 in the English Open. He’s rather gone off the boil since however, and has only won one match since the turn of the year (excluding the Shootout and Pro Series). But he’s still played well this season, and is a quality player.

But he’d absolutely be the villain in this match. Because Ant Hamilton has been through the wringer the past year. First he qualified for the Crucible last year. Then he withdrew because of covid concerns (Hamilton has severe asthma). Then he had eye surgery which went horribly wrong, and by his own admission, has left him nearly blind under certain lighting conditions.

He’s still giving it the good sporting try though, getting by on nous alone. And that is what will give him the opportunity here. Williams SHOULD totally annihilate Hamilton. But the Sheriff is such an awkward character to face, because he knows his way around the table like nobody else. I’ve backed the man from the Wirral here, but don’t be too surprised if he gets shot down.

Bracket 9 Prediction: Robbie Williams 10 – 8 Anthony Hamilton

Bracket 10

Tip: Expect to see a lot of moaning from me on Twitter (@M18Snooker) about all my favourites being in the same Bracket. Random my arse!

Carty 4-6 White, Heathcote 6-4 White, Day 6-3 Heathcote

Lines 6-2 Lloyd, Honghao 6-4 Lines, Walden 6-2 Honghao

Bracket 10 Final: Ryan Day vs. Ricky Walden

Let’s be honest here, this should be battle of the Welshmen. Let’s face it, Walden was brought up in Flintshire, and lives in Flintshire now. Anyway, rant over. Ryan won his third Ranking title at the Shootout back in February (I am not getting into the argument of whether the Shootout should be a ranking event here), which came as a bit of a surprise considering he hadn’t been himself for a couple of seasons. It’s actually his only venture beyond the Last 32 this season, which tells you a lot. But when he’s on form, Ryan is what I like to call an “accumulator” player – they never look like they’re playing especially quickly, but they just rack up the points rapidly. You look one moment and they have 10 points, you look back shortly afterwards and they’ve made a ton. And his cue power is simply insane, likely due to his height (just shy of 6’2).

Talking of players having a renaissance this season, Ricky’s done relatively well for himself, reaching the Quarters in the Scottish Open and two other Last 16s. He’s had so many issues with injury that I did wonder if he’d ever hit the high notes again. Ricky is so smooth in the balls, and he’s a very clever operator who knows when to give up on a break. If he can find his form again more often, then I have little doubt he’ll be back in the mix for the Top 16 before long. You don’t seem to get those good all-rounders in the vein of Perry and Walden coming through these days.

Funnily enough both of these two have had issues related to their spine in recent years (back and spine for Walden, neck for Day), which has contributed to their fall from grace. But this will be a great match regardless of that, because both of them are very experienced pros. I’ve just about gone for Ryan to win this one, but I wouldn’t be hugely surprised if it was the other way round.

Bracket 10 Prediction: Ryan Day 10 – 7 Ricky Walden

Bracket 11

Tip: Duane Jones has been known to practice with Mark Williams. So if he gets on a streamed table, expect to see him use Mark’s ingenious new break-off and play at least one shot underarm.

Tip 2: If Ben Woollaston does well, then expect some smart alek on social media to say that it’s down to his wife being a referee, ignoring the very obvious fact that Tatiana isn’t allowed to officiate his matches.

Taylor 6-1 Bai, McManus 3-6 Taylor, Woolaston 6-3 McManus

D. Jones 6-2 Staniland, Wells 5-6 D. Jones, Gould 6-3 D. Jones

Bracket 11 Final: Ben Woollaston vs. Martin Gould

Just what I hate doing, predicting Ben Woollaston matches. Can you blame me though? Because you never know what you’re getting. I’ve seen him beat the best, and I’ve also seen him lose to absolute dross. He is a good player to watch though. He’s got a nice rhythm around the table, he’s relatively aggressive, and he has a strong safety backing, likely helped by his friend Mark Selby (then again if you ask Mark he’s friends with everyone in Leicester). You get these cases with 128 players on tour that some just don’t really get talked about so much. And Ben is the perfect example.

So Martin Gould, ANOTHER player who has had a career revival this season. He’s talked very openly about his issues with depression, and I must say, his interviews are a very good listen. You really get the feeling that he wants to stop other people from suffering with the same issues that he did. He came agonisingly close to a first ranking title since 2016 at the start of the season, losing a decider to Selby in the European Masters, and has since reached a Quarter-Final at the World Grand Prix. He’s always been an enterprising player, and in groove makes the game look rather easy. This should be close, both players will fight for every point. It won’t be pretty, but it will be entertaining. As for the winner? I think I’d just tip Ben.

Bracket 11 Prediction: Ben Woolaston 10 – 8 Martin Gould

Bracket 12

Tip: If David Grace gets on a streamed table, expect at least one reference to Leeds United in every frame (presuming the streamed tables have commentators). Because Snooker commentators love to talk about just about every sport OTHER than Snooker

Hallworth 4-6 Young, Grace 6-0 Young, Brown 4-6 Grace

Cahill 5-6 Maddocks, Greene 4-6 Maddocks, Wilson 6-4 Maddocks

Bracket 12 Final: David Grace vs. Gary Wilson

Ee by gum, it’s the battle of the proper northern lads. Best watch this with a pie or a pasty, and a bottle of brown ale (or your other drink of choice if like me, you don’t drink alcohol). Big Dave Grace is a much underrated player, and I love to see him playing. For such a big guy (he’s 6’5 and had issues fitting in the Crucible when he qualified), he’s got a lovely touch in the balls. He isn’t such an explosive break builder, but he does go through spells where it’s like the balls are magnetic. He also reached the semis in the Northern Ireland Open, before being outclassed by Judd Trump (who hasn’t this season).

But he will be the underdog against the Wallsend Wolverine. Gary’s had an extremely poor season, and he’s admitted to struggling mentally with Covid (I can relate) amongst other things. He reached the Last 16 of the English Open, but other than that it’s the Last 64 where he’s peaked. We all remember his run to the semis 2 years ago (where he suddenly became the best safety player in the world), but he missed out to Alex Ursenbacher last year, and with the season he’s had, I fear the Wolverine may get mauled.

Bracket 12 Prediction: David Grace 10 – 3 Gary Wilson

Bracket 13

Tip: Expect me to be cheering on Peter Devlin via Twitter. Because I think he is a genius and hilarious. A bit like if I was a professional snooker player who could rap. (Sadly I can do neither).

Tip 2: Bet on Ali Carter. I’ll explain why further down.

Si 6-1 Hussain, Pang 6-5 Si, Carter 6-1 Pang

Devlin 6-4 Kleckers, Ursenbacher 6-3 Devlin, O’Donnell 6-3 Ursenbacher

Bracket 13 Final: Ali Carter vs. Martin O’Donnell

Ali has been one of the standout players of the season for me. He’s not actually won anything (although he was runner-up in the Pro Series), but there’s been times this season where he’s simply blown everybody away. He’s made 27 centuries this season, and has made a habit of battering opponents into the dust. He’s been simply phenomenal, but issues with his temper still rear their head on occasion.

His opponent is very different though. The man known as the Minister of Defence knows how to tighten the screw on an opponent, and seems to relish in clearing up the mess made by rash opponents. He reminds me of a 2015-17 Mark Selby in that respect. In fact Martin got to this stage last season before being crushed by Elliot Slessor. His peak this season was a Last 8 appearance at of all the tournaments for the Minister of Defence, the Shootout. Martin is very capable of keeping you under lock and key for a match, stopping you from really doing much. But that won’t happen here. Ali lost in qualifying to Louis Heathcote last season, but he’s a very different animal this campaign.

Bracket 13 Prediction: Ali Carter 10 – 1 Martin O’Donnell

Bracket 14

Tip: Sam Craigie can be lethal in the right mood. He’ll make a century in every match he plays.

Filipiak 6-4 Parsons, Page 6-2 Filipiak, Page 6-4 Zhao X

Hill 6-2 Hugill, Craigie 6-5 Hill, Craigie 6-5 Vafaei

Bracket 14 Final: Jackson Page vs. Sam Craigie

Well wouldn’t this be nice. For me anyway, I like both players. Action Jackson is right in the thick of tour survival action, but he can clearly play so much better than he has done. It’s got to be difficult starting out on tour though, and I feel like he’s a couple more years from really establishing himself and he’s been much improved this season. His peak was the Last 16 in the European Masters, going through Jack Lisowski and Luca Brecel in the process. I feel like there’s a lot of Mark Williams in young Jackson (not in that way!) with how he approaches break building.

So, does anyone want to say Sam Craigie’s inconsistent? Fine, I’ll do it. He’s a frustrating player to watch because he has all the tools to be truly great. His game is absolutely ridiculous for where he’s ranked, especially his potting. He treats every shot as if it’s his last, and I find myself living the match with him as a result. He’s had some great results this season, but they’ve tended to be isolated. He was absolutely superb in the Pro Series however. This could be anybody’s, but Sam is just so good, I feel like he’s one good result away from being a major threat.

Bracket 14 Prediction: Jackson Page 6 – 10 Sam Craigie

Bracket 15

Tip: Matthew Stevens is a canny operator. Back him in any decider.

Lei 4-6 Mertens, Wakelin 6-2 Mertens, Stevens 6-5 Wakelin

Lichtenberg 6-1 Kakovskii, Burns 6-3 Lichtenberg, Xiao 6-2 Burns

Bracket 15 Final: Matthew Stevens vs. Xiao Guodong

I don’t know what else to say about Matthew other than what I put in the Underrated Players blog. He’s a great player still after all these years, he’s developed a backbone of steel, and he doesn’t feel the pressure because he never expects to win a match. He’s had a good season as well, with a Last 16, three other Last 32s and some very good performances (especially beating Ronnie in the English Open). And when he hits the high notes, he can be devastating still.

He’s got stiff competition in Xiao though. Longshot Xiao, as his nickname would suggest, has a piercing long game. But he’s always struck me as a very confident player in his own right aside from that. He’s so consistent in his play that when he’s in the balls, I just never fancy him missing. The Quarter-Finals of the Gibraltar Open is the furthest he’s got this season, and it feels like he’s regressed slightly for whatever reason. He no longer feels like a significant threat for titles like he did a couple of years ago. I do think he’ll win here though, I think he’ll be a little too strong for the Welsh Dragon.

Bracket 15 Prediction: Matthew Stevens 6 – 10 Xiao Guodong

Bracket 16

Tip: Robbie McGuigan is related to Mark Allen. So if the draws really are rigged, expect McGuigan to qualify and face Mark in Round 1 at the Crucible.

Hancorn 6-4 Nussele, King 6-2 Hancorn, Brecel 6-4 King

Mann 6-3 McGuigan, Chen 4-6 Mann, Bingham 6-0 Mann

Bracket 16 Final: Luca Brecel vs. Stuart Bingham

Almost done. Luca, the Belgian Bullet. He’s dropped off a little in the past couple of years, I think the loss to Gary Wilson in that Crucible epic took more out of him than he’ll say, and he’s started to overcomplicate his game again. Luca is at his best when he’s sticking to the basics – one visit snooker. He’s a great long potter, and then he’s a hyper-aggressive player who will happily take on anything. Never underestimate what he can do when his eye is in. Two last 32s for Luca this season. Also, his Wikipedia page lists his nickname as “Snooker Brecel”, and I’ve not decided if that’s terrible or hilarious.

Ok, who had Stuart Bingham having to qualify for the World Championship on their predictions card at the start of the season? He seemed safe for a while, but he was just waiting for his season to get going. And it never did. He’s had a couple of Quarter-Finals, but nothing significant enough to push him into contention. However he is a great player, a maximum machine, and he’ll be after the £10,000 for making a maxi in the qualifiers. I’ve got him beating Luca comfortably here, Luca just seems to have lost his game.

Bracket 16 Prediction: Luca Brecel 6 – 10 Stuart Bingham

So that’s the predictions. Let me know what you think, and if I do as badly as I’m expecting, feel free to insult me via the normal means (Twitter, Blog comments, Morse Code, send me a letter in Binary). Until next time, thanks for reading.

The Break #1: Top 10 Most Underrated Players of all time

Welcome to a brand new part of this blog called The Break. This is where I count down some Snooker lists, based on my personal opinion, and likely little else. Oh, and if you think the name is naff, by all means suggest a better one. I promise I’ll at least consider it, and your name will almost certainly be better

Anyway, I am a regular on the old snooker Twitter (Follow @m18snooker for any blog updates), and when you are a regular on the old Snooker Twitter, you may see people saying “X is one of the most underrated players of all time” or “Nobody really appreciates how good Y is”. So, being very qualified (i.e. I watch Snooker), I decided to rank the Top 10 most underrated players of all time.

To make it more interesting though, I’ve set myself two limitations. Firstly, I cannot pick any player who has won the World Championship. Secondly, every player on the list must have been professional for at least 5 seasons. So you will see no Graeme Dott, no Peter Ebdon, and no Shaun Murphy (yes I do think he’s underrated). Think I missed one? Well let me know on here or on Twitter, because I value your opinion (honestly, I do).

LATE EDITING NOTE: Look, I did a thing! Would you like to know my opinions on Pukka Pies? You do?! Well firstly, have you really got nothing better to think about? And secondly, you can find a link to my interview with the frankly fantastic Alex from Cluster of Reds (a significantly more successful blogger than myself) here: https://clusterofreds.com/2021/02/19/conversations-with-cor-phil-robinson/
(After you’ve read this obviously though)

  • 10. Kurt Maflin

Your likely reaction to this shows why he’s underrated. His results don’t really show it, but if you’ve seen enough of him play, you will know. When he’s in full flow, Kurt strikes the ball cleanly, and while he’s not the most fluent player ever (primarily down to the metal plate in his shoulder), what his cue action gives him is a very punchy shot, he slams the cue ball, and it makes the power shots look brilliant… when they go in.

Someone told me on Twitter a while back that Maflin will never win a ranking event, because he has no bottle. I, naturally, disagree. In my opinion, it’s not that Kurt lacks bottle (just watch his matches with Gilbert, Higgins, and Clarke), but he seems to have lapses in concentration. Everything’s going well, and then suddenly he’ll push a ball onto the jaw or get distracted by a positional shot.

This is about him being underrated however, so I’ll save the riot act for later. When he’s in form, Kurt has everything to be a top player. His safety game in particular is something which doesn’t get enough credit, a point proven against John Higgins. Tactically astute, and with shot selection many would shy away from, Norway’s number one is a much underrated threat. The only reason he’s not higher is that he still feels like he’s putting every bit of his game together.
(Oh, and don’t forget, I don’t claim royalties on #MaflinMafia)

  • 9. Ryan Day

This entry may surprise you somewhat. But it has a lot to do with his fall from grace over the past couple of years. I’ve always rated Ryan as someone who should have won far more than he has in the game. On his day, he really is a match for anybody, and will happily just pot you out of the match. He is what I like to call an Accumulator Player – he scores very heavily and plays quickly without ever looking rushed. He just seems to hoover up points very comfortably.

Another notable thing about Ryan is his height, which gives him absolutely INSANE cue power. Just watch a long match involving Ryan, and you’ll see plenty of examples of how much action he gets on the cue ball, and it barely looks like he’s even touched it. What that means is that sometimes he over-hits shots, and sometimes he overhits them by so much that he ends up in good position anyway.

So why’s he underrated? Well, he’s been relatively quiet for a couple of years now (not helped by rumours of a recurrent neck injury), and he’s admitted in the past to struggling to maintain his passion for the game. Also, when this subject comes up on social media, Ryan is someone who’s almost never mentioned. And I have no idea why. He’s a 7 time ranking finalist, winner of two, and has been to the Last 8 at the Crucible three times (2008, 2009, 2012). Ultimately though, I do think people recognise that he should have won more than he has, which is why he’s lower.

  • 8. Liang Wenbo

Oh Liang, what a twisted web we weave. A player of such natural talent that he makes the sport look like a fine art sometimes, and a player of such natural charisma that you have to make a sustained effort to not like him. When you watch him around the table, he’s a very busy player – he’s always trying to be two shots ahead. That is his greatest strength.

But it’s also his greatest weakness. Because in snooker, it’s helpful to be thinking two shots ahead. The problem with Liang is, sometimes it seems like he’s PLAYING two shots ahead. He’s so bothered about getting the balls where he wants them in a few shots’ time, he sometimes just forgets about the current shot.

And while we’re talking about his positional play, that’s another issue. He has a tendency to gradually run slightly out of position. If it’s just one shot it’s not too bad. But when you’re slightly out on every shot, you get to the position where you’re making each shot progressively more difficult. And Liang has no off button – when he’s on a decent break, he’ll go for anything to make it continue.

But when everything’s working for him, it’s a sight to see. He makes the game look comically easy at times. His potting is great, his safety game is rather under-appriciated, and his tactical game is good, if a little suspect against the top players. It seems criminal that he’s only won a single ranking event (although as we’ll see later it’s not the most criminal thing on this list), and if he can just improve his focus and positional play, there’s no reason he can’t win a lot more.

  • 7. Tom Ford

When I started writing the list, I never thought of Tom Ford for a moment. But surely that has to tell you something. Because Tom Ford is a very good player (as well as a Rob Walker doppelganger). Admittedly he’s probably the weakest player on this list, but he’s still an absolute beast when he’s in decent form. I’ve seen plenty of matches where Ford has just taken the game away from the opponent in no time, a bit like Ryan Day actually, because he just gathers points so quickly.

He doesn’t quite have the raw cue power of some others, but he makes up for that with excellent positional sense. It’s very rare that you see Ford constantly battling for position, and he’s got a wise head on his shoulders, because he knows when to give a break up and just play a good safety.

Not that he has to do that too often. Tom has 236 centuries in competiton (as of the start of Feb 2021), and five 147 breaks in his career. Only six players have made more, and he has two more than any other player who’s never been in the Top 16 (Gary Wilson, 3). Ford is an absolutely ferocious potter on his day. Which begs the question – why’s he never been in the Top 16?

The answer might lay in his mentality. One issue I’ve noticed with Tom is that he has trouble killing off opponents. Once he’s done most of the hard work, especially against top quality opposition, he starts to become very twitchy. He also has a habit of starting to play too negatively in these situations, which isn’t automatically a bad thing, but you’ve got to take your chances when they come.

He almost seems to lack a little bit of bottle. When the going gets tough, he starts to wilt a bit, and it’s unfortunate, because he’s a great player, and he should have won something by now. It’s just that the fragilities in his game tend to reveal themselves when he’s under pressure. Nethertheless, Tom is a player who is just waiting to truly make his impact on the game.

  • 6. Scott Donaldson

Ah Scotty. Scott is one of those players who I was impressed with the first time I saw him play. And I will admit he’s not progressed through the rankings quite like I expected. However he has still been steadily climbing, and has generally been extremely consistent throughout, the sign of a great player.

You know what you’re going to get with Scott (seriously, why do so many players not have nicknames? It’s not like he’s not appeared at the Crucible even! Anyway, that’s for a future discussion) – he’s not going to rock up, make 4 centuries and a 90 break, and leave. Scott is an altogether steadier type of player, one who will graft, picking off points like a sniper until a chance to get over the line comes along, while keeping the table tight for his opponent. It’s an effective strategy, as even the top players can be strangleheld, perhaps even easier than those ranked lower. They are the top players because they are used to playing one chance snooker.

The funny thing is however, The Perthshire Potter’s (come on, it’s better than nothing) greatest strength is also perhaps his biggest limitation. While his more attrition-based game can be strong against the top players. it holds him back significantly against lower ranked players. Especially in the bottom third of the tour, a large majority of the players are either fairly inexperienced, and will be used to scrapping frames out, or old workhorses, who can tie anybody in knots when given the opportunity.

And I think that’s why he hasn’t kicked on like a lot of people perhaps thought he would when he won the Championship League. He is undoubtedly a fantastic player, and I fully expect him to win something in the next couple of years. It just doesn’t feel like he’s yet had that one breakout performance, and he needs to consistently be killing frames off in one visit. Very much someone to watch in the near future.

  • 5. Marco Fu

So this is the bit where I remind everyone how good Marco Fu is. I shouldn’t have to remind people of that (unless you’ve only been watching snooker for the past two or three years), but it’s honestly true. For reasons related to my course, I hate statistics now. But I’ll give some to you. 501 Centuries (10th of all time as of publishing). Twice a Triple Crown finalist. Four maximum breaks (equal 9th of all time as of publishing). Twice a World Championship semi-finalist. Twice reached multiple Triple Crown quarter-finals in a season.

So why’s he only won three ranking events? Truth be told, I’m asking myself the same question as I write this. This will sound harsh but for the longest time, Fu was the definition of a “good” player. His potting was reliable without being remarkable, his long game was solid without being exceptional, and his safety was solid without being Selby. He had a good temprement, and a good snooker brain, rarely choosing the wrong shot.

His game had no weaknesses, but outside of break-building, it had no real obvious strengths either. Look at the top 16 at the moment, and pick any person from there at random. If you think for a little bit of time, you can name one strength which defines their game. Ronnie’s relentless break building. Selby’s watertight safety play. Higgins’ comeback ability. With all of them you can pinpoint the key part of their game. With Fu you can’t.

And perhaps that’s why Marco has only won three ranking events. He’s always been a good player, great even. But he’s rarely if ever been the best player in a given tournament. Underestimate his quality at your peril however, as there has been plenty of matches where he’s shown his class. My personal recommendation is the 2016 World Semi-Final against Mark Selby.

  • 4. Michael Holt

Oh Michael, Michael, Michael. What can I say which has not been said before? Honestly, very little. So I’ll just condense my thoughts here. A player so talented, only one ranking title seems like a travesty. And yet, it looked for a long time like he would end his career without any silverware at all. Honestly, the fact that it means Holt has won a Ranker is the biggest argument for the Shootout being a ranking event in my opinion (boy I’m looking forward to any comments on this)

It’s at this point I would normally ask why he’s not won more. However, I think most snooker fans of a certain vintage know exactly why, and it’s a reason which is eleven letters long – temperament. Michael has been infamous (especially earlier in his career) for having an appalling temperament and losing his cool constantly in the big matches. So much so in fact that he once ended up in hospital after he punched the side of a table so hard he actually broke a knuckle.

And it’s a shame really. Because the Hitman is such a smooth operator in the balls when he’s playing well. He rarely miscues, he rarely seems to have kicks, and his positional play is up there with the best in the world in my opinion. He’s improved somewhat in recent years, owing mainly to a more mature attitude, especially since he married Amy in 2017 and became a father the next year, as well as a seemingly more relaxed view on the game. He’s spoken a number of times about his underachievement in the game, but on his day he’s still top quality, and he’s great to watch.

  • 3. Fergal O’Brien

Heh, bet you weren’t expecting that! Think about it though – who EVER talks about Fergal? I don’t mean that as a slight on him at all, it’s just that I never hear anybody talk about how good a player he is. And honestly, he is. Very good in fact. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen enough of Fergal as a player to give any real in-depth discussion on his career, but I’ve still seen a fair amount from him.

And honestly, he’s a damn fine player. He’s never been the quickest around the table (we’re not talking Walker or Lawler standards, but he’s not exactly Ronnie either), neither is he the most fluent around the table. But what he is (again, on his day) is consistent. He tends to mop up balls with ruthless consistency, and then if he’s not quite reached the finish line, he just puts you behind a colour or on the baulk cushion.

And yes, you could say that about anybody else who’s sufficiently talented or experienced. So what makes Fergal different? Simple – efficiency. While many players can do what he does, few make it look so effortless. He’ll fight for every point, but it doesn’t look like he’s fighting. When you watch him play, he genuinely believes that he’ll get every ball he goes for. His shot selection is nearly always correct, and as Dave Gilbert learned a couple of years ago, he’s got the temperament to control the long frames.

If you’ve not seen Fergal in his peak, then there’s a fair amount of videos around of his performances (if you’re feeling brave, there is a video of the entire last frame between he and Gilberto), and you’ll quickly see that there’s more to him than the average player that he’s largely become. He may have barely stayed on tour last season (through the one year list), but he’s a top quality player when you get to see his best. Speaking of last year’s one year list…

  • 2. Michael White

Yeah, thanks Fergal. Honestly, I don’t think that Michael’s talent is a secret. I think most snooker fans of a few years know how good he is. And yet they don’t. The thing is, everyone accepts that Michael White is a good player. But I think that people may have written off little things in his game which make him a real force when he plays well.

For example, nobody ever seems to talk about his safety game. But for me, that’s the one thing which won him matches, even when he was playing badly. Because it’s one thing keeping games tight against your opponent, but it’s quite another keeping games tight when your opponent feels like they should be pushing the boat out, because they know they’re facing an opponent who is out of form. During the dark days, that is what Michael won matches by doing – he let his opposition take on shots which they never would do against other players.

Then we come to his potting. He’s a curious case where he’s extremely accurate as long as he doesn’t have to play shots with a huge amount of pace. Which is a bit of a shame considering how much power he can generate on the cue ball. He’s got a great cue action, and a fantastic eye for a pot. His style is so easy on the eye when playing well.

Now you’re probably expecting me to talk about the reasons for him not winning more. But here, I think the reasons are well known. Well… the main reason anyway. Everything factors back down into his well-admitted depression, and by his own admission he wasn’t practicing as hard and lost some desire for the game.

But it feels like the worm has turned. Over the last year and a bit, Michael seems to have dropped a bit of weight, he looks a lot healthier and happier. Despite all his issues he was only about £500 (i think) away from staying on tour last season, and was somewhat unlucky to lose in the world qualifiers to Noppon. He’s currently very much in the mix for a new tour card through the one year list, and his future is looking brighter than it has done for some time.

Honourable Mentions

Anthony McGill – I really wanted to put McGill in here, but ultimately I would have him at 11. Ant is a terrific player who has largely been nowhere near his best in the past couple of years. I just don’t think he’s as underrated a threat as others on the list. If he can rediscover his form on a more consistent basis, don’t be surprised to see McGill in the world’s top 10 in the next couple of years. What I will say for him is that he would have put up far more of a fight in the World Final than Kyren did.

Nigel Bond – Nigel is a consistent threat who always proves a challenge for whoever he’s facing, and his 2019 UK Championship run really rolled back the years. However at this stage of his career I think suggesting that he’s one of the most underrated players is a little bit difficult of an argument.

Paul Hunter – I know that if enough people read this someone would question this. Hunter was a brilliant player taken far too soon. But because he was taken so soon, I can’t include him here. It’s impossible to say if he was overrated, underrated, or neither. The game has just changed too much to use any modern method of judging

Players from the 1980s: You will have noticed there is no players from the 80s and before on here. This is simply as I don’t feel they are as underrated as other players personally, although I did consider Bill Werbeniuk, as mad as it sounds.

Before #1, a quick reminder that if you’ve read all of this, check me out on Twitter @M18Snooker, @PhiltheRenegade, and consider leaving a comment down below telling me what you think or any other ideas for lists like these.

  • 1. Matthew Stevens

Seriously, who else was going to be number 1? And before people start saying Ding, read the crucial word – UNDERRATED. I think people tend to forget now with his somewhat patchy performances, but back in the first half of the 2000s, Matthew really was one of the most consistent players in the world, particularly at the Crucible. Including his debut in 1998, Matthew competed at the Crucible 11 successive times, including navigating qualifying 3 times, reaching the Quarter-Finals on 8 occasions, and no less than 5 semi-finals.

And when you watch him, even now when he’s on form, you see exactly why. He just hits the ball so consistently, and he’s always been just as adept at taking scrappy frames as he has been winning in one visit. He strikes the ball nicely, he’s a good break builder, and while it’s not as good now as it was, in his peak he was a match for anybody from range. To date he’s got 326 centuries, only 20 players have more than that, and I think people tend to overlook what he’s done in his career.

Later in his career he’s developed a niche almost of his own. Nobody has more bottle in snooker today than the man from Carmarthen. Time and time again he’ll take frames he has no business even being in, because he has that grit and determination. If Matthew in his peak was playing today, then he’d have far more than a single raking title, and I have little doubt he’d be a World.

He’s another player who when playing well is a joy to watch. The idea of an underrated player is that people forget what they can do. But with Matthew it’s different. He’s underrated because people forget that there’s nothing he really can’t do. His game has everything, and he’s been to the top of the mountain, losing two very good world finals. I’ll leave you here by telling you that if you’ve not already found it, you really need to watch the 2005 World final on Youtube. It’s such a good match, and you get an idea of why the fact that Stevens only winning a single Ranking event is a travesty. For me, Matthew is the most underrated player in Snooker.

Psychic Zone: 2020 UK Championship Predictions

Why do I do this to myself? Just why? Ok, here we go. UK Championship, the first of the Triple Crown, and a tournament I was planning on attending (thanks a bunch Covid). But this is somewhere to escape the news, so here I will briefly run down the draw and highlight a handful of players. Predictions in bold as usual, section predictions at the end of each.

SECTION I

World Number 16 Jack Lisowski

Ding Junhui vs. Jamie Curtis-Barrett
Ian Burns vs. David Grace
Luca Brecel vs. Lei Peifan
Xiao Guodong vs. Brandon Seargeant
Jack Lisowski vs. Farakh Ajaib
Tian Pengfei vs. Jamie O’Neill
Gary Wilson vs. Oli Lines
Anthony Hamilton vs. Xu Si

So as always, we start with the defending champion, Ding. We were wondering after last year’s triumph if he would kick on. The answer? Not really. He hasn’t been bad, but I sometimes get the feeling that he is lacking any real desire to play. He should easily have too much for Jamie Curtis-Barrett, the Grimsby man an amateur again after failing to make an impact as a professional.

David Grace is (as of writing) in the Last 8 of the Northern Ireland Open (held in the famously Irish town Milton Keynes), and is a former semi-finalist in the UK Champs. While I don’t expect him to do that well again, he’s certainly capable of springing the occassional shock.

Luca Brecel is fighting to regain a place in the Top 32, after a couple of lean years. I think a lot of players tend to forget Luca is still only 25, because he’s been on the tour for so long. On his day Luca can beat anybody, and he’s shown that multiple times. I just think his shot selection is sometimes questionable, and he’s just as liable to go out first round as he is to reach the late stages.

The person I’m taking for Section I though is Jack Lisowski. Lisowski needs a decent result to retain his place in the Top 16 for the Masters, and he’s got time on his side regarding winning a tournament. When he’s firing he is deadly, and his tactical game is leagues better than this time two years ago. He has a potential banana-skin against Tian in Round 2, but I think he’ll be just fine. And if you’re going to cement your place in the Masters, what better way than taking out the defending UK Champion?

Section I Prediction: Ding Junhui 3-6 Jack Lisowski

Section II

World Number 6 John Higgins

Alan McManus vs. Jimmy White
Zhou Yuelong vs. Peter Devlin
Sam Craigie vs. Chang Bingyu
Mark Allen vs. Jamie Wilson
Ryan Day vs. Jak Jones
Scott Donaldson vs. Simon Lichtenberg
Daniel Wells vs. Gerard Greene
John Higgins vs. Fergal O’Brien

Considering they’ve both been professionals for more than 30 years, you would expect Eurosport co-pundits Jimmy White and Angles McManus to have faced each other more than 20 times. Not to mention they last faced each other in 2012. I would have backed Jimmy to get through against a fair few people, but that doesn’t include Alan, who will have White tied in knots all match.

Does Mark Allen now have an irrational fear of people called Jamie? We are about to find out (spoiler alert: he isn’t). Allen is not only a champion, he is the Champion of Champions, as well as a former Masters champion. If he can beat 17 year old Jamie Wilson, he has a tough second round match against either the quick-scoring Ryan Day or the scrappy and gutsy Jak Jones.

Jak Jones is someone who really interests me. I’ve not seen nearly enough of him play, but he’s someone who top players seem to have a lot of issues with. His style seems very scrappy, but he’s always got a ton in him. I think he unsettles some people with his somewhat slower play. If he plays well, he’s got a great chance. If he doesn’t, Ryan will run him over.

However, and I apologise for a lack of imagination here, I’m plumping for old reliable – John Higgins. It’s an entire decade now since Higgins won the UK Championship last, however he is playing as well at the moment as he has in at least the past 5 years for me. He has an awkward first match against another old hand in Fearless Fergal, but has an excellent head-to-head against him (9-4), and Higgins is hitting notes right now that I don’t think most other players can reach.

Section II Prediction: Mark Allen 4-6 John Higgins

SECTION III

World Number 5 Mark Selby

Mark Selby vs. Michael White
Liam Highfield vs. Jackson Page
Michael Holt vs. Gao Yang
Hossein Vafaei vs. Billy Castle
David Gilbert vs. Fan Zhengyi
Robert Milkins vs. Si Jiahui
Barry Hawkins vs. Riley Parsons
Mark Davis vs. Robbie Williams

I have said it before and I will say it again. Michael White is FAR too good to be an amateur. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a fan. A player of his quality should not be off the tour, and it is testament to his issues over the past couple of years that he is. However, he is playing better now, he seems far more positive, and seems to be significantly healthier as well. He ran to the Last 16 last year, including an all-time classic in the Last 32 against Mark Davis, which if memory serves me correctly (which would be a novelty), was decided on a respotted black in the decider.

If Eurosport are showing Selby vs. White (which they should be!), I will be glued to the television (or player). Mark is a strange case: some days his B game won’t be good enough, others he gets through with his D or E game. He is significantly tougher to take on when he isn’t playing well sometimes, as he will just turtle up and he’s probably the best safety player in the game. Whoever wins this match will be a force.

Oh Michael Holt, what a strange tale we weave. So many times you have threatened to become a major force in the game, but so many times you fall slightly short. You are both brilliant and terrible. How far will the Hitman get? Just roll a dice, and take the roll as your answer. Betting on him? Don’t.

Barry Hawkins is having a resurgence this season (unless you ask Michael White). Another player who’s had very lean form, he’s dropped away from the Top 16 and needs a deep run to appear at the Masters again. Never write him off however. If he gets on a roll, he can very easily steamroll all kinds of opponents. He isn’t flashy, but boy is he effective.

Dave Gilbert is also here, but he doesn’t have the benefit of good form. In fact, his form in the past 12 months has been awful, to the point where it’s over 11 months since he ventured beyond the Last 32 of a tournament. He’s always capable, but he’s in a rut and I don’t see a way out right now. He seems to be regressing as players around him improve.

Would it be harsh to say this pretty much comes down to Selby/White and Hawkins? Yes. Would it be the truth? Possibly, although Holt, Vafaei, and even Gilbert if he shows up in form will have a thing or two to say about that. So don’t rule out seeing some surprises.

SECTION III PREDICTION: Mark Selby 6-4 Barry Hawkins

SECTION IV

World Number 70 Louis Heathcote

Lyu Haotian vs. Sohail Vahedi
Anthony McGill vs. Steven Hallworth
Yuan SiJun vs. Chen Zifan
Yan Bingtao vs. Sean Maddocks
Li Hang vs. Fraser Patrick
Zhao Xintong vs. Rory McLeod
Chris Wakelin vs. Louis Heathcote
Neil Robertson vs. Brian Ochoiski

The top half of this section is very open. I would argue that Ant McGill may be the favourite in this section, after his semi-final at Worlds. McGill is one player who is not afraid to grind frames out, something he seems to have gotten from regular foe John Higgins. He doesn’t lack nerve nor belief. He is also in the Race to the Masters, with a good run promising a likely ticket to the Top 16 invitational.

Yan has had a solid season so far, with a deep run in the NI Open (as I write, he trails David Grace 4-2 in the Last 8), and a QF appearance at the European Masters at the start of the season. It is hard to believe Yan is only 20, but I feel he has a way to go before he becomes a top threat for regular ranking titles. He’s just a little weak in terms of shot selection I feel.

Neil Robertson is clearly the favourite for the section, and for good reason. The Aussie is absolutely lethal when he’s got his eye in, and has a final to his name this season already (his 30th ranking final). His first opponent is the highly talented young Frenchman Brian Ochoiski (I sincerely apologise if his name is incorrectly spelt). If Robertson underperforms, then he has half a chance. What better a way to make your name.

Zhao Xintong vs. Rory McLeod is a battle of polar opposites. One is a fast young attacking player who has risen quickly in his short time as a pro, and has wins against some of the biggest names in the game. The other is known as the Dentist for his granite but slightly dull style.

But I always have at least one surprising choice, and this is no exception. There’s a player here who I’m a big fan of. He’s a young up-and-comer in his second season on tour, has had several impressive results, and was last season’s highest ranked tour newcomer (ranked as high as 67 at the start of this season). His name? Louis Heathcote.

Section IV Prediction: Zhao Xintong 5-6 Louis Heathcote

At this point, I’d like to remind you that if you like this, you can follow me on Twitter @M18Snooker, and if you want to know more about my views on the world (lord knows why you’d want to), you can follow me personally @PhiltheRenegade. I regulary talk about such subjects as Snooker (obviously), my Autism, and random UK Children’s Television from the 2000s.

SECTION V

World Number 18 Ali Carter

Judd Trump vs. Paul Davison
Luo Honghao vs. Dominic Dale
Liang Wenbo vs. Allan Taylor
Ben Woollaston vs. Andy Hicks
Mark Williams vs. Ben Hancorn
Sunny Akani vs. Kacper Filipiak
Ali Carter vs. Ash Carty
Ricky Walden vs. Rod Lawler

Judd Trump. I literally have nothing to say which hasn’t been said 1000 times already. He’s having a great season, but I don’t think he’s played all that well at times. It feels like he’s on cruise control. But he’s still winning, so I guess it’s worth it. But there is 15 other players here.

Liang Wenbo is… unpredictable. He is such a great player when he wants to be, and he is a former finalist here. However that player rarely turns up. When he’s not firing, he’s cannon fodder. And sometimes, you’ll get different Liangs from match to match.

If there’s one player here who will happily scrap for 11 frames against anyone, it’s Ali Carter. He is a player I feel is significantly underrated, as people tend to overlook his accomplishments in the game and just talk about either his Chron’s disease or the bust-up with Ronnie. What you get instead is a driven and focused player who rarely takes undue risk. He can make big breaks, but is just as capable of grinding you down.

Trump is going well at the moment, but I think he’s starting to get a little too comfortable. The old saying is “Nobody bats 1000”, and that goes for Judd as well. I can see him steaming through the earlier rounds, but he will run into issues sooner or later.

Section V Prediction: Judd Trump 4-6 Ali Carter

SECTION VI

World Number 26 Kurt Maflin

Mark King vs. David Lilley
Graeme Dott vs. Zhao Jianbo
Andrew Higginson vs. James Cahill
Stuart Bingham vs. Zak Surety
Martin O’Donnell vs. Jamie Clarke
Kurt Maflin vs. Aaron Hill
Mark Joyce vs. Eden Sharav
Kyren Wilson vs. Ashley Hugill

Bags of experience wherever you look here. Five world finals in this section alone, two former World Champions, four players who have been professional for over 20 years in total, and one of my favourites.

I will address the elephant in the room, yes, I am very vocal about being a fan of king Kurt. Maflin is an excellent player who is just a little bit of tactical nous and consistency away from being a massive force. He isn’t pretty to watch, but he is effective. The frustration comes from the fact that you’re just waiting for him to miss a ball, because he does throw needless errors in. It isn’t a lack of bottle like I am told… just so much…, it’s more just concentration. He tends to take balls for granted a bit.

Graeme Dott is an old hand. Three times a world finalist, he’s actually got a rather poor record in the UK Championship, having never progressed beyond the Semis, and hasn’t gone beyond the Last 16 in six years. However when he’s playing well Dotty is a threat, and he is tenacious.

Jamie Clarke feels like he’s kicking on a bit after his run at the Crucible, and he’s playing well. He’s still young, he’s talented, he has a backbone, and he’s exciting to watch. His run to Sheffield means he now has a couple of years to try and establish himself on tour, and I have little doubt he can do that.

Finally we have one of the quickest rising players in the game in Kyren. He’s a player I’m a fan of, and he has a superb attitude to the game. His path looks reasonably clear to the Last 32, with Hugill and then either journeyman Mark Joyce or the underperforming Eden Sharav, but after that his path gets murky.

Kyren I believe will win a triple crown event soon. I just don’t see it being this one right now. I feel like he’s going to slip up, which will make him even hungrier for the Masters. As for who I think will get through? Either Dott or Maflin. Toss a coin – Heads is Dott, Tails is Maflin.

Section VI Prediction: Graeme Dott 5-6 Kurt Maflin

SECTION VII

World Number 9 Stephen Maguire

Shaun Murphy vs. Lee Walker
Elliot Slessor vs. Mitchell Mann
Matthew Selt vs. Amine Amiri
Lu Ning vs. Ken Doherty
Stephen Maguire vs. Iulian Boiko
Stuart Carrington vs. Barry Pinches
Tom Ford vs. Pang Junxu
Noppon Saengkham vs. Peter Lines

Stephen Maguire was runner-up last year after Ding walked all over him at the start of the final. Since then though, he’s actually won a ranking event (for the first time since 2013). Stephen is a cracking player to listen to, as he is so open about how he’s playing. If he’s playing like garbage, he’ll be the one to tell you that. He played tremendously in reaching the final last year though. his comeback against Michael White in particular was another level.

Outside of him we have a smorgasbord of talented players, all of whom can score very heavily. Tom Fordr is a ferocious potter but lacks a little bit of bottle for me. Stuart Carrington is a well adept break builder and was a star at junior level back in the day, but his season has been dreadful thus far.

And we need to address the obsession the draw computer has with pitting Noppon Saengkham against members of the Lines family. After no less than three meetings with Oli this season (winning one), he now faces Oli’s father, and former World Seniors Champion, Peter.

Elliot Slessor is a player who really interests me. His rise over the past few years has been steady but slightly erratic. He’s also been very vocal on social media regarding his frustrations with the game at times. However, young Elliot is a determined player, and I feel he’s grown immensely as a player since becoming a father.

But if you want to talk about potters, you HAVE to talk about Shaun Murphy. When he’s not being insulted by opticians (If you own a Twitter account you know what I’m talking about), he can be such a great player. I have seen tons of matches where Shaun has potted opponents out of the game without them playing a shot wrong really.

The issue with Shaun is he never seems happy with his game. He’s always tinkering with it, and I think he’s just overcomplicating the basics. But when he does have a clear head, he is one hell of a player. This section will just come down to who turns up in form and who cuts out the little mistakes.

Section VII Prediction: Elliot Slessor 2-6 Stephen Maguire

SECTION VIII

World Number 2 Ronnie O’Sullivan

Jimmy Robertson vs. Igor Figueiredo
Joe Perry vs. Alex Borg
Joe O’Connor vs. Duane Jones
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh vs. Lukas Kleckers
Martin Gould vs. Jordan Brown
Matthew Stevens vs. Jamie Jones
Alexander Ursenbacher vs. Nigel Bond
Ronnie O’Sullivan vs. Leo Fernandez

Look, it’s the player who all the commentators won’t shut up about (especially in everyone else’s matches). I will go on record to say that I think Ronnie is a great guy, and his talent as a player is absolutely without doubt. He’s said recently that he feels like he’s getting more susceptible to missing balls as he gets older. I respond by pointing out he’s the World Champion, and suggesting he’s not playing that well is absolute balderdash.

So who can challenge the mighty Ron? Well this section just happens to contain a couple of players who are having a renaissance in their careers – 39 year old Martin Gould, and 43 year old Matthew Stevens. Stevens in particular could face Ronnie in the Last 32 for the THIRD event in a row (barring the Championship League, which started before the EO). They are 1-1, which is a pretty good record against Ronnie to be fair. He might even have beaten him at the NI Open other than the table playing like a Lucky Dip.

Gould will have his hands full in Round 1 though with a very tough nut in Jordan Brown, the Antrim Ferrari having qualified for the Crucible for the first time earlier this year, and then running Mark Selby close. Brown is a steady eddy type player, but he is quite experienced and if playing well, will give anyone a decent match.

Nigel Bond was one of the stories of last year, defeating Judd Trump on his way to the Last 8, only being denied in the Last 8 by Mark Allen in a match which went all the way. 00147 is a player who will catch you out if you underestimate him, even despite turning 55 recently. He will be a stern test for Alex Ursenbacher, who other than the World Qualifiers earlier this year, has a dire record in longer matches.

Gentleman Joe is here, he’s still very much in the race to the masters and will be a stern examination for the unwary. People will ask if this is the time Theppy can finally beat Ronnie (spoiler alert:no). Duane Jones has Mark Williams in his corner, which will be useful if Williams is indeed sober. Ultimately it is Ronnie’s section to throw away. But would you be surprised if he did? Because I wouldn’t.

Section VIII Prediction: Joe Perry 3-6 Ronnie O’Sullivan

OVERALL PREDICTION: STEPHEN MAGUIRE

If you’ve got this far, I just want to thank you for making it to the end. After the tournament I will have a Reflections article looking back at the tournament (may be around Christmas if Masters work does not allow). And if you like it, why not share it so other snooker fans can read it and tell me how I’m totally wrong? Thanks for reading, it means the world to me!

Psychic Zone: The 2020 World Snooker Championship Round 1

See, I told you all Carty would go through! After that unprecedented success (ignoring the fact I got most other qualifiers wrong), I’m going to run through the draw for the Last 32 and make my predictions, as well as leaving at the bottom who I think is going to win. And before anyone asks, no, I’m not putting money on it this year.

Also before I start, I would like to shout out CueTracker (find the genius behind it @CueTracker_Ron on the old Twitterati), for providing the head to head records on their website. Unlike Wikipedia, I do count it as a reliable source.

Match 1: [1] Judd Trump (ENG) vs. Tom Ford (ENG)
H2H: Trump 10 – 4 Ford

This is an interesting one. Judd has had a wonderful season this season, which has led to may people predicting him to not only win this match, but break the mythical Crucible Curse, which for the uninitiated, is the inability for any first time World Champion to retain their title.

So can Judd breach the Curse? His record SIX ranking event wins this season would suggest so. The World Number 1 has been unplayable at times this season, perhaps even up to the level of Ronnie a couple of years ago at times. So with all of this, we don’t need to even question this round right?

Well… not exactly. Because Tom Ford is nobody to be taken lightly. The World Number 26 from the apparent home of snooker talent in Leicester is more than a capable player, and is a prolific century maker, including a personal best of 25 so far this season (three tons in the World Championship would take him to 28, equalling the previous two seasons combined for him).

Additionally, Ford came through a very tricky final qualifying round, overcoming a very game and talented opponent in Stuart Carrington. Also, Ford has had a good season himself, reaching two Semi-Finals (English Open and World Grand Prix). However, one mark against Ford is his inability to win a match in three previous visits to the hallowed ground.

Ford has a poor record against Trump, having lost 10 of their 14 matches. Interestingly, they are 1-1 in terms of BO19 against each other. Trump beat Ford 10-8 at this stage 6 years ago. A similar result here appears the likely outcome. Do I think Trump can break the Curse? Yes, of course. Do I think he will break the Curse? Not really.

PREDICTION: JUDD TRUMP 10 – 7 Tom Ford

Match 2: [16] Yan Bingtao (CHN) vs. Elliot Slessor (ENG)
H2H: N/A (first professional meeting)

It’s incredible to think that these two have never met before. It’s easy to forget Yan is still less than half a year into his 20s, and after a slight hiccup in his development with a quiet season last season, he’s well and truly rebounded this season with five Semi-finals, including a win in the Riga Masters.

It’s only his second appearence at the Crucible (the least of anybody in the Top 16). Make no mistake about it, Yan is a serious player and is part of the sport’s future not just in China, but worldwide. However I don’t think he’s quite ready to launch a major assault on the title.

Slessor meanwhile, is one of five debutants this time around. It’s strange that at 25, he’s significantly the older player of the two. The man from Gateshead surprised a lot of people with his run through the qualifiers, especially his marvellous 10-3 victory over Martin O’Donnell to qualify.

Sless himself has reached only his second Quarter-FInal this season, and his run through the tournament has secured his place in the Top 64, the highest he’s ever been ranked in fact (provisionally up to #60 in the world). With bags of talent, he’s now got the opportunity to really kick on and achieve whatever he can in the game. Not to mention that the £20,000 is massive for a player who has become a father this season.

This should really be a closer match than I’m predicting. My logic here is that Slessor does seem to suffer a lot with nerves (as is natural), and in the cauldron of the Crucible Theatre, players of far higher stature have crumbled. Yan on the other hand has the advantage of having played there before, and showed no fear on debut. But if the Geordie can get a hold on his emotions, don’t be too surprised if he pushes Yan all the way.

PREDICTION: YAN BINGTAO 10 – 4 Elliot Slessor

Match 3: [9] Stephen Maguire (Sco) vs. Martin Gould (Eng)
H2H: Maguire 4 – 9 Gould

Right, this one could be interesting. In one of the ties of the round, we have Stephen Maguire. It’s a testement to how badly his career tailed off that his win at the Tour Championship was his first ranking title since 2013’s Welsh Open. Other than that, it’s been a typical mixed bag from him (call him Mixed Bag Maguire!), with him having reached the semis of three ranking events (winning two), but also failing to qualify for three events.

I doubt he’ll be overly concerned with his form though, nor will he be concerned with his terrible head-to-head record against his opponent, despite all his wins against Gould coming in BO5s, and not since 2014. The Maverick is not somebody to be trifeled with here.

Nor is Gould however. The Pinner Potter may have been fighting off retirement thoughts this season, but he showed no signs of slowing down in a very impressive win against Graeme Dott. And lest we forget that despite a couple of lean years, Gould knows how to win matches, being a former World Number 11 and ranking event winner.

It’s important to take head-to-head into account, but it’s also important to consider confidence. Maguire has been simply fantastic at times this season, and if he plays anything like that here, Gould doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance. If Maguire is off colour though, then that could be interesting.

PREDICTION: STEPHEN MAGUIRE 10 – 5 Martin Gould

Match 4: [8[ Kyren Wilson (Eng) w/o vs. Anthony Hamilton (Eng)

Right, this is a little awkward, because during the writing of this blog, I have heard the news that Hamilton has withdrawn due to health concerns regarding his asthma and the COVID-19 situation (I promise this is the only time I’m mentioning the outbreak in this blog).

I’ve seen reports of people giving Hamilton abuse online for this. Which quite frankly, is stupid. I know that this is the worst case scenario, but imagine how his family would feel if he contracted COVID as a result of this and then died from it.

At the end of the day, is it a shame this has happened? Yes. Is it a shame they couldn’t get someone in as a replacement? Also yes. But the decision Anthony has taken is totally understandible in his situation, and the fact he still gets his prize money is only what is right. In case you’re wondering though, I would have predicted Hamilton to win 10-8. Oh well, C’est la vie.

Match 5: [5] John Higgins [Sco] vs. Matthew Stevens (Wal)
H2H: Higgins 18 – 8 Stevens, one DRAW

The tie of the round. It’s incredible to think that these two haven’t faced off since 2014, considering they’ve had 27 matches against each other now. Higgins is looking for a fourth successive World Final, something which nobody has done since Stephen Hendry reached six in a row in the 90s.

He’s had his best season in years as well, even if it is the first time since 13-14 that he hasn’t reached a ranking final, although he has reached the final of the non-ranking Six Reds World Championship, as well as two semi-finals and a further five quarter-finals. The strange thing with Higgins is that he always gets results despite never seemingly playing well, a great asset to have.

Matt Stevens also has the habit of getting results, despite him being convinced that he never plays well. He’s come through two qualifying rounds, and had a highly impressive victory over a former world semi finalist in Ricky Walden. He’s also had a little bit of an indian summer the past couple of years, reaching the Quarter-finals of the UK Championship this season before being put down by a fine performance from Maguire.

John Higgins is the master of getting results when you’re playing badly, and has reached the final three years in succession. But nothing lasts forever, and unlike the previous three years, he’s up against someone with a track record of winning matches at the Crucible. Matthew Stevens is a big game player, and he’s going to make Higgins work for every frame.

PREDICTION: John Higgins 7 – 10 MATTHEW STEVENS

Match 6: [12] David Gilbert (Eng) vs. Kurt Maflin (Nor)
H2H: Gilbert 4 – 0 Maflin

Where to start with Gilbert? His season has been good… well until the new year it was excellent actually, reaching his fourth Ranking final, only to be steamrolled by Mark Selby (9-1), and three more Last 8 appearences. However since being run over by Selby (again, 6-1 this time) in the Scottish Open semis, he’s won one match in Ranking events, in the universally beloved Shoot-Out.

So this gives Maflin a chance. Kurt, born in the somewhat forgotten Norwegian town of Southwark (jokes), is the true definition of an underachiever in the game. Despite his clear talent and the fact he has plenty of bottle, he’s never quite achieved what he should have doen in the game, something which other players are quick to mention.

Why is this? Well I might do an editorial some other time on this subject, but to put it simply, I think he just loses concentration sometimes. His focus seems to waver, and it often seems to be on the crucial shots. He is already the most successful player from the Nordic countries, but in terms of being a top player, he loses too many frames from 30+ points upwards.

However, he did have an impressive run in the qualfiers, seeing off a very strong opponent in Joe O’Connor, and then on Judgement Day, he totally dominated an admittedly poor Matt Selt, and won 10-1. It must also be noted that while he has lost every professional match he’s played against Gilbert, none of these have been over a longer format than BO7.

Maflin is a dangerous player and he looked laser focused against Selt. If he continues that form here and Gilbert underperforms, a shock is very much on the cards. However this event last year was where Gilbert became the darling of the snooker world, and you have to imagine he’ll be looking to prove it wasn’t a one-hit wonder. Expect lots of close, high-scoring frames between two very fine players.

PREDICTION: DAVID GILBERT 10 – 8 Kurt Maflin

Match 7: [13] Jack Lisowski (Eng) vs. Anthony McGill (Sco)
H2H: Lisowski 1 – 3 McGill

Who’s really the favourite here? Lisowski has had a relatively uneventful season other than being a finalist at the Scottish Open, his next best results being Last 16s. However he’s done more than enough to stay in the Top 16, and while he’s only ever won one match at the Crucible, he fought valiantly last year in defeat against Ali Carter. In my opinion, Jack is a little bit of tactical nous and consistency away from regularly challenging to win events.

As for McGill, he’s not had the best time recently, but his performances in qualifying were simply extraordinary, conceding a total of two frames against the men I predicted to fight it out for a place at the Crucible in Jak Jones and Sam Baird. His season has been uninteresting mostly, other than a Last 8 performance at the Shootout, where he is a former champion.

His record in Sheffield is better, having reached the Last 8 on debut in 2015, and never failing to qualify since, and despite being in poor form last year, managed to take seven frames from Ding in Round 1.

This will all come down to who takes an early stranglehold of the match. If Lisowski gets his eye in early, then he should record a second ever win here, but I find it hard to bet against the Guillotine in this kind of form, which must have been helped by his self-confessed thrashings from Maguire and Higgins at their new practice unit up in Scotland.

PREDICTION: Jack Lisowski 6 – 10 ANTHONY MCGILL

MATCH 8: [4] Mark Allen (NI) vs. Jamie Clarke (Wal)
H2H: N/A (first ever meeting)

How do you begin to quantify the season Mark Allen has had? By almost all parameters you use, he’s had an absolutely tremendous season. Five ranking event semi-finals, an 11th Ranking final, 7th on the one-year ranking list, and he’s up to a career-high ranking of 4. But there’s been one thing missing: he’s not actually won anything.

I don’t need to tell people how good a player Allen is, but his Crucible record is extremely spotty, having reached the Last 8 once in the past 8 years. He’s a quality player, and if he was ever going to mount a strong challenge, this is the year.

As for Jamie Clarke, this is a story and a half. Again, the story of Clarke is something I would love to go into more, but to cut a long story short, his constant near misses with turning professional saw him nicknamed The Welsh Whirlwind.

His entire time on the tour has been a series of struggles, with him waiting several months to register his first win as a pro. This season hasn’t been a lot better, although he has beaten Mark Selby among others. He caused a huge stir in qualifying when he beat an off-form Joe Perry 6-4, before surviving a spirited fightback by Sunny Akani in the final round. He’s not been making many massive breaks (his highest break against Perry was 72 and 86 against Akani), but he’s been grinding out the results.

I like Mark Allen, but I would love nothing more than for Clarke to cause maybe the biggest upset in Crucible history (sound off on who you think would get that honour). Even I am a realist however, and while every dog has their day, there is then the day after. And on that day, Allen would have to play like an absolute drain to go out here. Surely I can’t be wrong about this one.

PREDICTION: MARK ALLEN 10 – 1 Jamie Clarke

Match 9: [3] Mark Williams (Wal) vs. Alan McManus (Sco)
H2H: Williams 10 – 7 McManus

It’s the turn of the old boys now. Williams, now 45, won the title two years ago and now largely professes to not care about the game. But he’s fooling nobody, and he still wants to win as much as he always did, if only because the better he does, the bigger bender he can go on afterwards.

His season… happened. He reached the final of the China Championship and semis of the Gibraltar Open, both while never really looking like he tried that hard. Aside from that he’s not done much, but is somehow still ranked 3rd in the world (well until the money comes off for his win two years ago anyway).

As for Angles, this run has secured his Top 64 place (not that it was in any huge doubt anyway), and aged 49, he’s the oldest player to qualify since Steve Davis a full decade ago. He saw off two of the brightest young hopes in snooker in Sam Craigie and Scott Donaldson in order to make his way through, and afterwards, he seemed very pleased with his game.

As for his season, this is the 3rd time he’s reached the Last 32 this season, however he hasn’t progressed further. It’s still been enough to earn him around £50,000 though, which is a testament to how well you can make a living from Snooker, as well as how a consistent player can still earn money.

McManus beat Williams in their only meeting over this format in 2014, but Williams holds three previous victories over him in BO17s. Angles is always difficult to play against, but Mark Williams is someone who is happy to work for his chances. Expect this to be quite tense.

PREDICTION: MARK WILLIAMS 10 – 8 Alan McManus

Match 10: [14] Stuart Bingham (Eng) vs. Ashley Carty (Eng)

I hate to say I told you so regarding Carty, but… well you can go back to my predictions bit so I don’t have to. So Stuart Bingham, he won the Masters. Don’t worry, you’ve not missed anything other than that, he’s made one Ranking Quarter-Final (World Open, losing 5-2 against Higgins).

It’s a strange old thing watching him play. He’s playing well and then all of a sudden, the break goes down or he makes a mistake, and then his form seems to go into an enormous slump for a couple of frames. He’s a great player, but by no means the most fluent to watch.

And now we come to Ashley Carty, the 25 year old from Thurcroft, Rotherham, which if you’re not too well up on geography, isn’t far from Sheffield. He’s been very outspoken about his frustrations regarding his results on tour, and it’s totally understandable.

The £20,000 he’s earned for coming through the qualifiers is massive considering that it’s more than he’d earned all season. If you want to know what something like that means to a struggling young player, just watch Carty’s reaction to winning and his post-match interview. You can just see it in his eyes.

Ash will be game here, and Stuart will have to be careful, as he’s more than capable of producing an absolute stinker and handing the game to Carty. If Carty is right on form then Bingham will have work to do. I still think he’ll have more than enough though.

PREDICTION: STUART BINGHAM 10 – 5 Ashley Carty

MATCH 11: [11] Ding Junhui (Chn) vs. Mark King (Eng)
H2H: DING 7 – 1 King

Yay, a rhyming match! And from the winner of one BBC event this season to the winner of the other one (so far). Ding’s season has been very strange as it’s been all or nothing. He’s won the UK Championship, and reached another Quarter-Final, yet he’s also fallen at the first hurdle in five events.

When he’s on form, Ding is a wonderful player to watch, and in my opinion, is the best in the world when it comes to positional play. When he’s around the black spot, the cue-ball barely seems to move. And he rarely has to hit a shot particularly hard because of this controlled style.

He’s up against Mark King, who finds himself back at the Crucible after seven years away. Funnily enough, he lost to Ding that year, albeit in the Last 16. There’s been nothing from his season which would have suggested King as a qualifier, but he seems pleased with his game and is very much in shape.

Ding has a great record against King and i see little reason for this to change. The man from Romford has done well to qualify but I’ve seen nothing which suggests he’ll cause China’s number 1 any issues here. I could be wrong though, it’s happened before.

PREDICTION: DING JUNHUI 10 – 4 Mark King

Match 12: [6] Ronnie O’Sullivan (Eng) vs. Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (Tai)
H2H: O’Sullivan 0 – 1

What do I say about Ronnie which hasn’t been said beyond death? He’s the Rocket, he’s a natural genius and probably the most naturally talented Snooker player of all time, he’s a truly magnificent player to watch and he’s a complete germaphobe.

As for his season, it’s been… ok I guess. He’s only actually entered just over half of the Ranking events this season and reached the semis in Cardiff, but other than that, it’s been as much about what he hasn’t done (i.e. enter the Masters, win a ranker).

So Thepchaiya, what can you do? Mr. F-One (accoring to Wikipedia) has only won the pro-am Haining Open this season, although he was a finalist in the World Open, and has otherwise had a very good season, and currently sits at a career-high 20th in the world.

He’s a cracking player and I think this is the match everyone secretly wanted. The two quickest players on tour going up against each other, especially since their only previous meeting was in 2014. Buckle up, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

PREDICTION: RONNIE O’SULLIVAN 10 – 8 Thepchaiya Un-Nooh

Match 13: [7] Mark Selby (Eng) vs. Jordan Brown (NI)
H2H: N/A (no previous meetings)

This season has been the return of Mark Selby. After a couple of relatively lean years (which cost him the World Number 1 spot), he’s roared back this season with two ranking titles an a further three semis, to the point where the only person to beat him in a qualifier this season is Jamie Clarke (German Masters).

It feels though, like we’ve seen a different Selby this season. Instead of the normal, safety first, grind out everything Selby, we’ve had a far more attacking varient of his game, and it’s been largely paying dividends.

So what of his opponent? Jordan Brown is a four time Northern Ireland Amateur Champion, and a really tough customer. It’s not been easy for him on tour, failing to go beyond the Last 32 of any events, but he’s proven to have a great work ethic about him and the couple of occassions I’ve seen him, he has looked impressive.

If we get the old Selby, then this could be a very scrappy match. And Brown is going to give his all here, but I think Mark will just have a little too much experience and a little too much grit to go down here.

PREDICTION: MARK SELBY 10 – 6 Jordan Brown

Match 14: [10] Shaun Murphy (Eng) vs. Noppon Saengkham (Tai)
H2H: Murphy 2 – 0 Saengkham

Shaun Murphy holds a special place in my heart, as his world title win was the first Crucible tournament I ever remember watching (2005). Ever since then, I’ve always enjoyed watching him play, especially with his attacking flair and his self-confessed lack of any ability to play safe.

Murphy is another player coming back with a vengeance this season, winning two Ranking titles and reaching another final, just when his place in the Top 16 looked under threat. He’s also a great ambassador for the game, and a three time World Finalist.

Noppon Saengkham on the other hand, has had a largely disappointing season, with the promising Thai player only having a single Last 16 appearence to his name. He had impressive wins in qualifying though over Michael White (thanks for that), and Eden Sharav, and he’s a very good player on his day.

Saengkham is a far better player than his results have shown at times and than he was on debut at the Crucible in 2017, when he lost to Neil Robertson. But despite his own spotty record here in recent years, I think Murphy has too much here.

PREDICTION: SHAUN MURPHY 10 – 5 Noppon Saengkham

Match 15: [15] Barry Hawkins (Eng) vs. Alexander Ursenbacher (Sui)

One of these days, Barry Hawkins’ form is going to catch up with him. In recent years he’s largely made a habit of doing just enough at the World Championships to stay comfortably in the Top 16. He’ll need to do that big time this year as only two Quarter-finals have left him provisionally out in the cold in 20th.

And meanwhile, Alex Ursenbacher has become the latest player to be the first ever representative of their country at worlds (the last one was Kurt Maflin for Norway in 2015). The Swiss Fish (no I don’t understand the nickname either) is making rather a mockery of my predictions as I pointed out his dreadful record in longer matches. Incidentally, it’s the previous post on this blog if you want to go back and have a laugh. He played fantastic snooker against Gary WIlson, then survived a surge from Andrew Higginson to book his place.

One of these days Hawkins is going to run out of luck and run out of form. I just don’t see it being this year, against Ursenbacher. However well the Swiss player has done, I don’t think he’s going to win. Then again, I’ve been wronger before.

PREDICTION: BARRY HAWKINS 10 – 7 Alexander Ursenbacher

Match 16: [2] Neil Robertson (Aus) vs. Liang Wenbo (Chn)

Another tie of the round here to finish our first round off. Neil Robertson (hopefully with a sensible haircut now) is a highly accomplished player, who had a surprisingly muted first half of the season, a couple of Last 16s his peak. But he really hit his stride after the UK Championship, when he reached three finals on the spin, all in different countries (European Masters in Dornbirn, Austria, German Masters, and World Grand Prix in Cheltenham, England).

Liang’s season hasn’t been anything special on the other hand. A couple of Last 8s were nice, and unlike last season he hasn’t dropped 22 places in the rankings, but a player of his natural talent and spirit should be doing better really. He’s even admitted himself that he’s been overthinking his game during this time.

Do I think Liang can beat Robertson? Yes, absolutely. Do I think he IS going to beat Robertson? No. Not this time, in this place. He’ll fight really hard and I do think it will be close. Ultimately though, I think Robertson has too much for him.

PREDICTION: NEIL ROBERTSON 10 – 7 Liang Wenbo

PREDICTED WINNER OF THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP: RONNIE O’SULLIVAN/MARK SELBY (I can’t decide)

Psychic Zone: World Snooker Championship 2020 Qualifier Predictions

Yes, the name of this section is ironic. Yes, I’ll be impressed if I get one right. But what the hell. The 2020 world snooker championship looked like it might not go ahead, but a reduction of cases in… you know, that, have meant that it is going ahead a few months late. And what do you know, the qualifiers (being broadcast for presumably the first time ever this year) are starting on the 21st July. The same day as my birthday.

So what I’m going to do is instead of typing out the full draw (which you can find on the world snooker website here: https://wst.tv/2020-betfred-world-championship-qualifiers-draw/ , I will give a rundown of the key runners and riders in each section, and who I think is going to qualify. Starting with…

SECTION I

World Number 17 Joe Perry

We start with one of the easiest sections (in theory) to predict. We do have a man in Tian Pengfei who nearly made the Last 16 last year, and on his day, Tian can take on just about anybody. Sunny Akani is a very capable player and Jamie Clarke has had some very good (albeit sporadic) results on tour.

But honestly, it’s hard to look beyond Joe Perry here. The Gentleman is looking for a 17th appearence on the grand stage, and he knows how to navigate the tricky qualifying rounds. Tian will cause him problems if on form, but Perry should be too wise and too calm to fall to the man nicknamed Big Bird.

Prediction: JOE PERRY 10 – 7 Tian Pengfei


SECTION II

World Number 36 Ryan Day

From an easy-looking section to a difficult looking section. The big name is Ryan Day here, but outside of the recent Championship League, he’s had a dreadful season, with constant murmerings of a neck injury in the rumour mill. However, he did look very good in the CL, even if he didn’t win it.

This would lead to the other names in the section. Hossein Vafaei has reached the final qualifying round twice in three years, but his season hasn’t been much better than the Welshman’s. Jordan Brown and Craig Steadman are both steady players who can make themselves difficult to beat, while Rory McLeod has been to the hallowed ground a number of times.

Ultimately it’s just down to who turns up. With so little form to go on this season (Vafaei is the only player in the section within the top 50 on the one year list), I’m going to back Ryan Day, who at the CL sounded glad for the Covid-related break. But expect the unexpected threat.

Prediction: RYAN DAY 10 – 7 Jordan Brown

SECTION III

World Number 26 Tom Ford

This section has a couple of notable names, in Tom Ford and Stuart Carrington. Ford has a terrible record in the world qualifiers, but has enjoyed a highly succesful season including two semi-finals. Carrington on the other hand, has a far better record in qualifying (even if they have both qualified three times).

Let’s not pretend there’s nobody else here though. Luo Honghao reached the Crucible last year (less said about his match with Shaun Murphy the better), and needs a couple of wins to stay in the Top 64, while Oliver Lines needs to reach the Crucible for the first time to stand any hope of avoiding a trip to the dreaded Q School.

This is difficult to call, and Honghao beat Ford in the final round last season, so will fancy himself. But first he’ll have to overcome Carrington, which is easier said than done. Going with the form book and Ford here, but don’t be surprised to see Lines or even his dad Peter in the final round.

Prediction: Tom Ford 10 – 9 Stuart Carrington

SECTION IV

World Number 25 Michael Holt

Will Ken Doherty stay on tour? The 1997 world champion finds himself in a battle for survival, and is very much on the outside looking in, needing a couple of wins to (likely) survive. Of course, he’d love another appearence at worlds, but he’s got it all to do if that’s going to happen, needing three wins.

His biggest threat is likely going to be Michael Holt. The Hitman won a ranking event (took him long enough!) earlier this season in the ever controversial Snooker Shootout, which I’m sure has permenently stopped the arguements around whether it should be a ranking event (he says while wearing the hat of sarcasm).

Anyway, Holt’s good form this season makes him a top contender here, and he hasn’t been given the hardest route in the world. First up will be Ian Burns, unless Burns loses to Thor Chuan Leong (who’s only win all season came in the Shootout), or Iulian Boiko (who is 14). Burns has been to the final round before, but has done nothing this season to convince me he has any business beating Holt.

Meanwhile, Crafty Ken’s main competition on his side will be from the faded force of Mark King. Ultimately, this is likely to come down to Holt and Doherty. Conventional wisdom would back Doherty’s temprement over the longer format, but he doesn’t look the same player he did a few years ago.

Prediction: Michael Holt 10 – 5 Ken Doherty

SECTION V

World Number 21 Graeme Dott

This is probably the easiest to predict. Chris Wakelin qualified for the Crucible two years ago, and while pulling up no trees, has had a solid season. He likely has a difficult looking match against Martin Gould on the table, but Gould, a former Top 16 regular, has had another lean season and doesn’t look entirely fit.

On the other side, David Grace has qualified for the Crucible before, and lest we forget he was once a semi-finalist at the UK Championship, but seems to only have flashes of form. Same could be said for Hammad Miah, who is a ferocious potter on his day, but if it isn’t his day, Austria’s Florent Nuble (think that’s his name?) will fancy his chances of a surprise win.

Ultimately though, it has to be Graeme Dott. Dotty has played so well this season, I don’t understand how he’s not won an event (although reaching the final of the World Grand Prix made him the first ever player to have ranking finals in four different decades). I don’t see anybody here who will come close to him.

Prediction: Graeme Dott 10 – 3 Chris Wakelin

SECTION VI

World Number 31 Matthew Stevens

A tricky one to quantify here. Matthew Stevens is the standout name, and the twice world finalist has been to a ranking quarter-final this season at the UK Championship. Aside from that, it’s been a decent season, and Matthew finds himself back in the Top 32 again, which I could not be happier about (if you want to see me playing as him on Snooker 19, just let me know).

He has stiff competition however. Ricky Walden, while not the same player he was before his neck and back issues, is still a mighty fine player when on form. Mark Joyce reached a ranking event final to kick off this season, and is a very combative player who will give everything.

Nobody else seems likely to seriously challenge in this section, although John Astley and Igor Figueredo are more than capable of causing a surprise or two if on form. Ultimately it’s one of three here, and while Joyce will come very close to a Crucible debut, the old warhorse will become a dreaded draw for the seeds. Maybe lock horns with Shaun Murphy for a 3rd time?

Prediction: Matthew Stevens 10 – 9 Mark Joyce

SECTION VII

World Number 69 Jak Jones

Section 7, the section of steel. Some very gritty players here. Anthony McGill is the favourite here, but has dropped off a lot from his peak a few years ago. What McGill has going for him is a never-say-die attitude and good old scottish blood and guts. Takes after John Higgins in being very good at not losing, which is especially notable in the long form.

To get to the long form though, he will likely have to go through Jak Jones, a player who has gained great notoriety in the past season for being very hard to play against. Not the quickest player, Jones has picked up steady results and if he wins at least his first match here, should be fine for a new tour card at least through the one year list, not to mention that provisionally he holds the World Number 64 spot following the retirement of another speedmonger in Peter Ebdon.

On the other side, Mark Davis is another player who is usually tougher than dried weetabix (a substance even tougher than diamond for anyone who’s ever had to chisel it off of a bowl), but since losing his first ranking final to Stuart Bingham in October 2018, he doesn’t quite look the same player.

This presents a major opportunity to the lower ranked players. James Cahill has four matches to win, but he was a single frame from the Last 8 last year, losing a decider to Stephen Maguire. His season this season hasn’t marched that promise however, with only four wins. You would still back him howver, against 15 year old Ben Mertens, although the Belgian is gaining valueable experience all the time.

The winner of that match will face a player I personally rate very highly in Sam Baird. While he’s not had a great season, Baird is a ferocious potter when he’s on form, and is better than what he’s shown at times in the past couple of years. He also knows how to reach the Crucible, having reached the Last 16 in 2016.

This section is near impossible to predict, but ultimately, I can see neither top seed being involved in the final round, with McGill being far more suspect in BO11 format in my opinion. I’m going to back Jak Jones to make his Crucible bow, he’s gaining a reputation for being very difficult to play.

Prediction: Jak Jones 10 – 8 Sam Baird

SECTION VIII

World Number 20 Thepchaiya Un-Nooh

Right, so who fancies stopping Theppy then? Un-Nooh is the clear favourite for this section, being 12th on the one year list and the effective 4th seed for the qualifiers. But with Thepchaiya, you always get the feeling he’s going to make a mistake. He goes too quickly for his own good at times, and misses balls he has no business missing.

So who can stop him then? His nearest ranking rival is Lu Ning, but he’s not had much to shout about this season. However he is a very scrappy player, which may frustrate the Thai supremo. Talking of scrappy players, Liam Highfield is a potential opponent for Lu, and while his ranking doesn’t reflect it and he hasn’t done a huge amount this season, he has the heart of a lion. It helps Highfield that his potential first opponents are 22 year old amateur Patrick Whelan or 51 year old Alex Borg (who hasn’t won a match all season).

On the other side, we have Dominic Dale, another grizzled vet who is still fighting, and looking for a first Crucible trip since being a frame away from the Semis in 2014. The signs have been promising for Dale this season, beating both Ding Junhui and Mark Allen, albeit in the shorter BO7 format.

Dale and Thepchiya have never faced each other, so that could be a very interesting match. If Theppy can come through that battle, he’ll be in good shape for a war of attrition against Highfield. But if he wants a return to the hallowed ground, he’ll have to do it the hard way.

Prediction: Thepchiya Un-Nooh 10-7 Liam Highfield

SECTION IX

World Number 19 Gary Wilson

Gary Wilson, the true story of last year’s World Championship (sorry Dave Gilbert) enters the qualifiers having spent the season just short of the Top 16. Wilson has very much kicked on after his success last season, and is now a player you think of when you consider who’s likely to make the latter stages of a tournament.

So who else is there? The next highest seed is Daniel Wells, who’s quite experienced now. The Welshman hasn’t had a great season, but has proved that on his day, he’s more than capable of taking out an off-form player, meaning Wilson will have to keep his guard up.

As he will for the vastly experienced Andrew Higginson, who after a mediocre season could do with a couple of wins to secure his tour card for next season. The Widnes Warrior has a positive head-to-head against Wells, but they haven’t met since 2016.

Aaron Hill is the European Under-21 champion, and will be expected to provide a threat, while Alex Ursenbacher is a good player but has a terrible record in longer format matches. Meanwhile Riley Parsons hasn’t won a match in his first season as a professional, but clearly has bags of potential.

It’s really difficult to look past Wilson here. As mentioned above, he got to the Semis last year defeating Liang Wenbo, Luca Brecel, Mark Selby and Ali Carter along the way, and he’ll be eager to prove it wasn’t a fluke. The big question is who will face him in the last qualifying round.

Prediction: Gary Wilson 10 – 1 Andrew Higginson

SECTION X

World Number 38 Ben Woollaston

Another tricky one to call here, or as I’m calling it, the Geordie section. Ben Woollaston was excellent in the recent Championship League, and the Leicester cueman will be hoping to get out of the shadows, having been seen by many (including myself) to be a little bit of a journeyman professional. However, after a solid season (32nd on the one year list).

He’s by no means the only contender here though. Martin O’Donnell is actually the highest ranked player in the section at 33, but has suffered with a less notable case of second season syndrome, although he has still been decent. O’Donnell is a steady but unspectacular player, something which can be very handy for the long slog of qualifying.

Mike Dunn is in the mix, but his crippling health issues mean that he’s unlikely to be a challenger. Amateur Andrew Pagett is bullish about his chances and has been through four matches to qualify before, but a repeat seems unlikely. Kacper Filipiak is full of talent, but hasn’t shown the consistent ability to grind out results yet, and David Lilley has found his first season as a professional tough going. Meanwhile Antoni Kowalski is highly rated but is likely here to gain experience.

Elliot Slessor on the other hand, is a dark horse. The Gateshead player is one of three players from the far north of England in this section (alongside Lilley from Washington near Sunderland/Newcastle depending on where you believe, and Dunn from Redcar), but he’s had the best season of them, and is fighting to remain on the tour (Slessor trails provisional #64 Jak Jones by £750).

This section is a decision I’ve been going back and forth on for some time. Ultimately I think that Woollaston’s form from the Championship League is a good enough reason to back him, although O’Donnell, Slessor, or even Pagett would be a valid choice.

Prediction: Ben Woollaston 10 – 8 Martin O’Donnell

SECTION XI

World Number 67 Michael White

This may be the most open of all the sections, with no standout players in form to speak of. Lyu Haotian is the highest ranked player here (#30), but he’s had a totally forgettable season (aside from a semi-final at the Shootout, which I joked about earlier). Haotian reached the Last 16 of the World Championship on debut two years ago, and narrowly missed out last year.

Noppon Saengkham is on the other side, and is a player of great regard. However, Saengkham’s season hasn’t been much better than the Beijing Breakbuilder (I don’t come up with these nicknames, not my fault), although he has had the best season of anyone in this section money wise, despite not going beyond the L32 in any event.

Eden Sharav had a great season last season, the only Israeli professional starting to break out. Sadly, he’s not continued that into this season, with him earning only £15,000 this season. But if he turns up in form, the man from Mishmar Ayalon (cool sounding place) will be a major threat with his attacking force.

Nigel Bond is back (again), and enjoyed a miniture indian summer this season, reaching the Quarter-Finals at the UK Championship, defeating Luca Brecel, Gary Wilson, and our World Champion (and apparently lord and saviour) Judd Trump, winning three deciders along the way before falling to Mark Allen in what else, a decider. Bond hasn’t reached the Crucible since 2008, last reaching Judgement Day in 2016.

But I’m going to back Michael White here. White hasn’t had a good season, but two things are going for him: he’s fighting for tour survival, and he’s improved in the second half of the season. He reached the Last 16 of the UK Championship, and while he only won one match at the CL, he largely looked happier with his game. White being at the CL may give him an advantage over other players who weren’t there, and he beat Bond there. Qualifying for the Crucible should give him back a place in the 64, and this near miss would be a wake-up call. He also looks healthier, having seemingly dropped a bit of weight.

Prediction: Michael White 10 – 5 Nigel Bond

SECTION XII

World Number 62 Sam Craigie

This section is full of players who I like. Scotty Donaldson is the 6th seed in the qualifiers, and won a non-ranker earlier in the season. The Perth man disappointed on debut last year but has become stronger for the experience. He’s had a fairly consistent season, including a pair of ranking event quarter-finals, but never seriously challenged for a Top 16 place, although he is now firmly in the Top 32.

So who else do I like here? Anthony Hamilton, the Sheriff of Pottingham (I didn’t come up with that one either sadly) is a veteran in every sense of the word, and has also reached a pair of Last 8s this season. Hamilton was once a regular in Sheffield, but 2008 was the last time he progressed beyond the qualifiers.

Other contenders include the precociously talented but largely inexperienced Jackson Page, and the steady and confident Harvey Chandler. Both are capable of winning this section f they perform to their best. And of course we can’t forget the 300000 time (approximation) Women’s World Champion, Reanne Evans. The Dudley native has an excellent change and will arguably start as the favourite against Andy Hicks, the experienced Cream of Tavistock having mustered a single win this season.

The person I’m backing however, is Snooker’s new Mr. Angry, one Sam Craigie. Another man from Tyneside, Craigie has established himself as a very good player. Additionally, in the Championship League, he looked great, totally dominating Stuart Bingham amongst others, and had chances to beat Ronnie O’Sullivan. I would back Craigie to beat Evans or Hicks, and then to beat Hamilton. This would likely set up a crunch meeting with Donaldson, and with the pressure off regarding keeping his tour card (which Craigie should secure with one win), you just get the feeling that he might free his game up a bit.

Prediction: Sam Craigie 10 – 8 Scott Donaldson

SECTION XIII

World Number 73 Ashley Carty

Another section where there isn’t a huge amount of form to look at between the players here. Highest seed is Jimmy Robertson, the once ranking event winner, currently at 24. He’s had an ok season, a quarter-final in Gibraltar the highlight. Robertson is a good player but never strikes me as one to make a major impact in events.

Robert Milkins is the other top seed here, but he looks far from his best. That said, he does usually find some form around crucible time, and has the capability to pull off a few surprises if he manages to reach the latter stages. I don’t think he’s a major threat this year though.

Si Jiahui is promising but seems to have lacked a little bit of cofidence this season, Ross Muir is an excellent player and I can see him being a threat, but I don’t think he’s ready this year. As for Jimmy White, I’m sorry guys, it just isn’t going to happen. He will likely win one or two matches, and White vs. Milkins could be interesting.

All in all, my pick for this section is a surprise – Ashley Carty. Carty needs a very good run to stand a chance of avoiding Q School at the end of the season, and when I saw him playing at the recent CL, I wondered how he was so far down the rankings. It goes to show the strength of the tour.

Prediction: Ashley Carty 10 – 5 Jimmy White

SECTION XIV

World Number 104 Sohail Vahedi

Right, this section is literally impossible to predict. Matthew Selt is the highest ranked player but his form varies wildly. That said, he has enjoyed a relatively productive season, having reached a ranking semi-final and a quarter-final in Riga and Berlin respectively. Then there’s the FIVE L128 exits and a further three L64 exits.

But if you want unpredictable, then Selt has a real rival in Kurt Maflin. The Norwegian (which makes me a fan by default, don’t ask), has shared many similarities with Selt this season. Both reached the semis in Riga and one further Quarter Final, both have exited at the Last 128 stage five times, and Maflin has earned less than £7000 more on the one year list.

It’s been said befor that there are two Kurt Maflins. You get the Maflin who nearly reached a ranking event final earlier in the season and who qualified for the Crucible once upon a time. Then you have the Maflin who misses chance after chance and lost in the Shootout because he didn’t notice how low he was on time.

Elsewhere, you have other decent players like Joe O’Connor, a player who loves playing John Higgins but has had a serious case of second season syndrome, Lee Walker, who will be fun for the purists, Soheil Vahedi, who is brilliant about 5% of the time, and Allan Taylor, who’s probably a better mc than player (no offence).

So who’s going to win this one? Lord knows I wish I knew. This could go to just about anybody. Maflin SHOULD win this as I believe he is easily the best player in this section. But in the cauldron of qualifying, absolutely anyone could. Don’t take my prediction as a spoiler, take it as a guess. Because that’s literally all I can muster here.

Prediction: Soheil Vahedi 10 – 9 Kurt Maflin

SECTION XV

World Number 34 Liang Wenbo

Almost there. In reality this has taken me nearly 6 days now. Right, the penultimate section. Or as I’m calling it, the Liang and Luca show. Liang has had another good season without pulling up any trees, reaching another two Quarter-Finals in the process. Standard Liang fair.

As for Luca, it’s more than two years now since he reached that stage of a ranking event, despite his clear talent. However, he did win the recent Championship League, and looked ominously good in the process of doing that. But there is other players here, I promise.

People like Fergal O’Brien, who recently stated that he’ll retire when he’s dead (or something to that regard). And you know what, Fergal does have form in the longer format and has qualified 11 times before. I know, I was surprised as well. Only ever won four matches though at the theatre of dreams (well the Yorkshire one at least). He’s got a potential meeting with Rod Lawler, and boy are we all looking forward to that. (actually it might be useful, I could do with the beauty sleep!)

Alfie Burden, like Fearless Fergal of Finglas (or somewhere near there), needs wins to secure his place on the tour next season. Alfie qualifying is something which would bring a tear to the eye of many neutrals, he’s been trying for more than two decades to get back to the hallowed ground. When he qualified in 1998, I wasn’t even two years old yet. And now I’ve graduated university (shameless plug!) Needless to say, lots of us would love him to get back there.

Ultimately, it’s still likely to come down to the top seeds here, and boy is Brecel vs. Wenbo going to be one hell of a match on Judgement Day should that come about. Ultimately despite Brecel’s brilliance in Milton Keynes, I’m going to edge towards Liang for this one.

Prediction: Liang Wenbo 10 – 8 Luca Brecel

SECTION XVI

World Number 18 Ali Carter

Finally, the last section. Ali Carter is the top seed, coming close to an automatic place at the Crucible. This has been a banner year for Carter, reaching the Semis of the European Masters and being beaten in the final of the Masters by Stuart Bingham. Carter has been an ever present at the Crucible since first qualifying in 2003.

Alan McManus will likely be a serious challenger though. The canny Scotsman is only a few months from 50 now, but he’s still in the 64 and still plugging away, while also being a very well respected commentator. Old Angles has life in him yet and he’ll provide a strong challenge. Lest we forget he was a semi-finalist as recently as 2016 (although he’s not qualified since).

Robbie Williams was a former regular, but since 2016 he’s also failed to come back. The Merseysider could do with a run, although at 57 in the world he’ll likely still be safe for another season. Louis Heathcote is a very promising talent, but this has clearly come at least a year too soon. Kishan Hirani is a good player, but it’s not happened for him as a pro.

Carter should continue his run of qualifying into yet another championship. And he’s really going to be someone everyone wants to avoid if and when he gets there. He’s not afraid of the pressure, he has faith in his own game, and let’s face it, he reached the Quarters last season.

Prediction: Ali Carter 10 – 4 Alan McManus

So there are my predictions. You think differently? Why does that not surprise me! Why don’t you let me know what you think? Contact me on Facebook (Phil Robinson BSc), or Twitter (@PhiltheRenegade). Ciao for now!

Reflections #1: Five things we learned from… UK CHAMPIONSHIP 2019

Yes, I’m back, I know it’s surprisingly quickly, but after my surprisingly successful Round 1 predictions, I kicked back to watch the UK Championship (and do uni work, but that’s how it works). So here, I’m going through five key points from the tournament that we have found out.

DISCLAIMER: This is written between sessions in the UK final (Ding 5-3 Maguire), so I will not be going through the Masters draw. I will likely do that sometime over the Christmas period, and it deserves it’s own entry.

1: Lightning Strikes

Well I didn’t see this coming. Michael White has had, let’s be honest, a crap season. And he wasn’t much better last season. Between the season start in June and the start of this tournament near the end of November, can you guess how many matches the former World Number 15 had won? The answer is… 1. One match. That was also in June.

So you can guess how his match against the veteran Fergal O’Brien went can’t you? Yep, he won (6-2). It turned out that Michael had actually bothered to look like a snooker player here! After an excellent performance against a quite frankly embarrassing Mark Williams, he had an all-time classic against Mark Davis, which even sent the live scores website into meltdown (It said Mark had won the deciding re-spot, only to change it’s mind afterwards and tell the truth).

Sadly it wasn’t to be for Michael after that, despite a brilliant start against Stephen Maguire, but it was still a great run, and critical for someone who is outside the Top 64 (who are guaranteed their tour card for next season) on the provisional EOS (End of Season) rankings. Hopefully this will be just the motivation he needs to play again, because he is far too good to be down there.

2: Lay The Favourite

It was a great tournament (and as I write, still is), just not really for the top players in the game. Of the Top 16, 4 reached the Last 8 (Higgins, Ding, Allen, Maguire). Of the other 12, only 4 reached the Last 16 (Bingham, O’Sullivan, Robertson, and Selby), with only one (Bingham) losing to a player ranked higher than him (Higgins).

Especially poor were Shaun Murphy and Dave Gilbert, both Top 16 players losing in Round 1 to players ranked in the 100s (Eden Sharav #121 and James Cahill #118 respectively). Other players who disappointed include Barry Hawkins (4-6 against #55 Alan McManus in the Last 64), and Kyren Wilson (5-6 to #56 Marco Fu having lead 4-1). As for the World Champion, World Number 1, and World’s least appealing I’m a Celebrity contestant (yes those rumours have been around again!), oh boy am I going to get to him!

3: Even Stevens!

How good is it to see Matthew Stevens at the business end of majors again? The 2003 UK Champion and twice World Finalist came into the tournament off of a mediocre start to the season, but looked like business here. 6-0 against Chen Feilong was impressive. Then a rollercoaster 6-5 win against Ryan Day saw him into the Last 32, where he made a flying start on route to a 6-2 win against Anthony Hamilton, to lead to a match against Mark Selby.

A match which went on forever (a little like this blog). After a good few hours of play, Matthew eventually made the multi-time World Champion pay for a lack of ambition in the last frame, eventually winning it after midnight, an absolute granite performance.

Sadly a granite performance wasn’t enough to see off Stephen Maguire in the Last 8, losing three successive frames from 4-3 ahead a disappointing end to a great tournament. Will we see him at the business end again? Who’s to say? But once a hot young prospect, then one of the world’s best potting machines, Matthew Stevens is surely now one of the world’s best grinders.

4: The Name’s Bond… Nigel Bond… 00147

Well wasn’t this unexpected? After a few seasons of struggle and being seen as approaching the end, 54 year old Nigel Bond rolled back the years in the Barbican, producing a run which will live long in the memory. A shock 6-5 win against Luca Brecel in Round 1 was followed by another decider, this time against exciting tour newcomer Louis Heathcote, to book a Last 32 meeting with the World Champion, World Number 1, and unstoppable machine Judd Trump.

And this is where things get… interesting. After a standard first few frames, Trump went into the interval underwhelming, but still leading 3-1. It turns out that the worst thing to ever happen to Judd was the interval. As they returned he seemed unable to produce any kind of strong performance, while Nigel got stronger and stronger. After a tense final frame, Bond eventually won 6-3 against a player ranked 97 places above him in the world, to progress to the Last 16 of the UK for the first time since 2007.

When there, he overcame a 5-2 deficit against the previous round’s Century machine Gary Wilson to prevail in another decider, and reach the Last 8. There he lead Mark Allen 3-1, but seemed to struggle with the idea of being ahead at the interval, and despite a gritty performance, he eventually succumbed in, yes, you guessed it, a decider!

Bond’s run wasn’t pretty, but what it did prove was the strength of professional snooker these days. It is a sport where truly, anybody can beat anybody. Sure he didn’t win, but the performance of Nigel and of Matthew Stevens as mentioned before, prove that you are never too past your prime or too low on confidence to win.

5: Backs Against The Wall

The big question coming here was regarding the Race to the Masters. Technically about half the tour could have qualified with victory, but realistically it was three from four, with Stephen Maguire, Ali Carter, Joe Perry and Ding Junhui fighting it out.

You may have noticed that two of those names just happened to make the final. Maguire’s potting throughout the tournament was absolutely superb, and particularly against Matthew Stevens in the QF, he was absolutely immense, doing more than enough to cement his place at Ally Pally. His highlight must have been the semis though, absolutely creaming Mark Allen 6-0 to reach a 3rd UK final, 12 years after his last.

As for Ding, he came into the tournament on a rotten run of form, having reached beyond the Last 16 once in ranking tournaments this season, and twice in the last year, and needing a good run to get into the Masters. Reaching the final was just that run, including a 6-4 win against Ronnie O’Sullivan, and crucially in the previous round, a 6-4 win against his Masters rival Ali Carter.

When all was said and done, it was Ding, Maguire, and Perry who ended up in the 16, with Ali on the outside looking in. And then Ronnie pulled out of the Masters due to (lack of passion/boredom/laziness/”personal reasons”), which made the entire Race completely pointless. Thanks Ronnie!

If you like this blog, please share, and comment with your thoughts on whether Judd should be embarrassed losing to a geriatric, and whether you think Maguire will win another major.

Snooker Predictions: UK Championship 2019 (Last 128)

Another year drawing to a close and another trip to York (just not for me, I’m saving myself for Llandudno in March!!!). As you (probably) know, the UK Championship is one of the biggest tournaments on the calander, and it’s the one i look forward to the most, after the World Championship and (don’t murder me please) the Shootout. In this I’m just going to run through my last 128 predictions along with players’ rankings and who I think will win each section, and an overall prediction. Right then, here we go! (predictions in bold)

Section I

(2) Ronnie O’Sullivan vs. (a) Ross Bulman
(64) Sam Craigie vs. (65) Tian Pengfei
(32) Noppon Saengkham vs. (97) Jackson Page
(33) Anthony McGill vs. (96) Mitchell Mann
(16) Ding Junhui vs. (113) Duane Jones
(49) Mike Georgiou vs. (80) Oli Lines
(17) Ali Carter vs. (112) Brandon Sargeant
(48) Rob Milkins vs. (81) Harvey Chandler
Section 1 winner: Ronnie O’Sullivan vs. Ali Carter

sECTION II

(41) Li Hang vs. (88) Jamie Clarke
(24) Xiao Guodong vs. (105) Rod Lawler
(56) Marco Fu vs. (73) Craig Steadman
(9) Kyren Wilson vs. (120) Riley Parsons
(40) Liang Wenbo vs. (89) Dominic Dale
(25) Tom Ford vs. (104) David Grace
(57) Daniel Wells vs. (72) Zhang Anda
(8) Shaun Murphy vs. (121) Eden Sharav
Section 2 winner: Xiao Guodong vs. Shaun Murphy

Section III

(4) John Higgins vs. (124) Peter Lines
(60) Lu Ning vs. (69) Joe O’Connor
(28) Matt Selt vs. (101) Ian Burns
(37) Michael Holt vs. (92) Adam Stefanow
(12) Stuart Bingham vs. (117) Lei Peifan
(53) Martin Gould vs. (76) Alfie Burden
(21) Thepchiya Un-Nooh vs. (108) Jamie O’Neill
(44) Zhao Xintong vs. (85) Alex Ursenbacher
Section 3 winner: John Higgins vs. Zhao Xintong

Section IV

(45) Stuart Carrington vs. (84) James Wattana
(20) Yan Bingtao vs. (109) Igor Figuredo
(52) Peter Ebdon vs. (77) John Astley
(13) Jack Lisowski vs. (116) David Lilley
(36) Mark King vs. (93) Chang Bingyu
(29) Lu Haotian vs. (100) Andy Lee
(61) Robbie Williams vs. (68) Luo Honghao
(4) Neil Robertson vs. (125) Alex Borg
Section 4 Winner: Yan Bingtao vs. Neil Robertson

Section v

(3) Mark Williams vs. (126) Fraser Patrick
(62) Michael White vs. (67) Fergal O’Brian
(30) Zhou Yuelong vs. (99) Fan Zengyi
(35) Mark Davis vs. (94) Si Jiahui
(14) Stephen Maguire vs. (115) Billy Castle
(51) Mark Joyce vs. (78) Jordan Brown
(19) Graeme Dott vs. (110) Barry Pinches
(46) Yuan Sijun vs. (83) Hammad Miah
Section 5 Winner: Mark Williams vs. Stephen Maguire

Section vi

(43) Matthew Stevens vs. (86) Chen Feilong
(22) Ryan Day vs. (107) Soheil Vahedi
(54) Anthony Hamilton vs. (75) Sam Baird
(11) Dave Gilbert vs. (118) James Cahill
(38) Martin O’Donnell vs. (91) Kishan Hirani
(27) Ricky Walden vs. (102) Xu Si
(59) Liam Highfield vs. (70) Mike Dunn
(6) Mark Selby vs. (123) Andy Hicks
Section 6 Winner: Dave Gilbert vs. Mark Selby

sECTION vii

(7) Mark Allen vs. (122) Jimmy White
(58) Andrew Higginson vs. (71) Jak Jones
(26) Scott Donaldson vs. (103) Chen Zifan
(39) Ben Woolaston vs. (90) Zhang Jiankang
(10) Barry Hawkins vs. (119) Gerard Greene
(55) Alan McManus vs. (74) Elliot Slessor
(23) Jimmy Robertson vs. (106) Kacper Filipak
(42) Kurt Maflin vs. (87) Rory Thor
Section 7 Winner: Mark Allen vs. Kurt Maflin

sECTION VIII

(47) Chris Wakelin vs. (82) Ashley Carty
(18) Gary Wilson vs. (111) Bai Langning
(50) Sunny Akani vs. (79) Lee Walker
(15) Joe Perry vs. (114) Simon Lichtenberg
(34) Hossein Vafaei vs. (95) Louis Heathcote
(31) Luca Brecel vs. (98) Nigel Bond
(63) Ken Doherty vs. (66) Mei Xiwen
(2) Judd Trump vs. (127) Amine Amiri
Section 8 Winner: Judd Trump vs. Gary Wilson

2019 UK Champion: Ronnie O’Sullivan vs. Mark Selby


The power of two (decades): Film review

Ahh great Pokemon films, how I’ve missed you! Not for years have you shown your head and truly made a claim for being top class. But once in a while, your franchise comes out with something so magnificent that it sucks all the drifters back in again.

Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You may have been released around 18 months, but… listen, I’ve been busy, ok? And the Pokemon films haven’t been the most magnificent recently, with duller entries like Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel, ALL of the Generation 5 films, and please don’t get me started on the disorganised clusterfuck that was Hoopa and the Clash of Ages. But I found this film on demand, and well… I decided to give it a go.

Like with my previous review, this film will be marked on a simple 100 point system, split into five sections: Graphics (how good did the characters and the backgrounds look), Plot (did the story make sense, was the pacing correct, was the story adequately), Score (how good was the music for the film, did it fit the themes of the film), Characters (Were all the characters relevant and likeable, were their intentions correctly signalled, were they effective in their roles), and Overall Impressions (What did i think of the film as a whole, did everything fit together nicely). Anyway, that’s enough babbling, let’s get reviewing!

gRAPHICS

When i first saw the updated graphics for the modern generation of Pokemon, oh how I laughed. But, i will admit i was wrong. Because when you see the character models and how they move in the film, it makes total sense. The characters are being drawn with detail that only Japanese artists seem to understand.

The scenery looks brilliant, and some of the scenes (such as the grey buildings crumbling) look fantastic. All the textures look realistic, and each character looks like they took time and effort to create.

The best graphics though came in Sorrel’s backstory, which i will expand on later on. The sight of the frozen Luxray was (no pun intended) absolutely chilling, but it was so beautifully done. Not many places to go with the scoring on this one.
Score: 20/20

PloT

The film is very much split into two acts. The first act is an updated and cut-down version of the first handful of anime episodes, following everyone’s favourite permanent child (other than Peter Pan and members of PETA) Ash Ketchum, who gets his first pokemon aged 10. If you don’t know what a pokemon is, err why are you here? Seriously, how did you get this far? Anyway, focus. I’m just going to go over the important details here, the specifics about the main characters is in the fourth section.

So Ash goes to get his first pokemon, but all the starters have gone (you would think Professor Oak would have measures in place for this), so Ash is instead stuck with an obnoxious Pikachu who won’t get in his Poke Ball and has to be dragged around (to begin with) with what rather resembles an electrical cord. However, a run-in with a flock of angry Spearow bonds them.

After a quite significant time skip, he goes to the Pokemon Centre to… get his ears blasted off by Pokemon’s resident MILF, Delia Ketchum. Talking of blasting off, Team Rocket are in disguises as they are wanted criminals. But they couldn’t have made their disguises any more obvious. It’s here that Ash meets his companions for the film: Sorrel (from Veilstone City, just needs a pair of glasses and a sister to be a spitting image for Max), and Verity (whoever came up with Verity clearly wanted Dawn in the film so badly but was told no so he gave us a partial clone).

From here they sneak up on an Entei (bad idea, also a throwback to Pokemon 3), Ash and Verity argue while Sorrel channels his inner Confucius while proving he watched the weather forecast), then Suicune appears in front of Verity (cool moment, kinda throwback to Pokemon 4), and Ash rescues a Charmander after it’s trainer Cross abandons it, saying there’s Charmanders like it all over the place (again, what was stopping Oak getting one?), leaving Ash to adopt it.

After hiding in a cave, Ash challenges Cross with Charmander (who has now evolved to Charmeleon), and gets pissy when he loses (so heroic!). After a weird alternate reality scene, they take the Rainbow Wing (which he obtained at the start of the film), and go to meet Ho-Oh.

They meet a mountain guide (who is almost certainly a much older Ash imo), and then go to use the Rainbow Wing, but instead have to battle Cross again. Charmeleon evolves (again, to Charizard), and Cross is defeated.

Marshadow then steals the wing (i have no idea why) and turns it dark, while using it to possess about 7000 pokemon which all suddenly happen to live on this remote mountain), causing Ash and co. to fight back.

Eventually Ash takes a hit for Pikachu and disappears, before Pikachu wards off the other pokemon with an electric move. Pikachu then picks Ash’s hat up and cries (throwback to Pokemon 1), somehow causing Ash to return. The important parts of the film end with Ash battling Ho-Oh, to no shown result.

So what do i think of it? I think the plot was generally very good, but the pacing was all over the place at times. Also the film felt like it really lagged in the middle. But I did like the plot other than that. The first half was a nice (if very compressed) throwback to the start of the anime, and the other act was an imaginative story revolving around the mischief of Marshadow). It was good. But far from perfect.
Score: 14/20

MUSICAL SCORE

The opening to the film was a cover of the original Pokemon theme song, covered by Ben Dixon. And it was really good. Not quite as good as some other versions (X&Y), but I still love it.

The ending theme is what I really have to talk about though – the atmospheric I Choose You. The lyrics really make you feel like they were thinking of all of Ash’s companions when they wrote it. And the way that Haven Paschall performs it makes it emotional and tender (gee I really like reviewing films that make me cry don’t I?)

I’m not going to keep up the suspense, because the score was really good. And while it wasn’t my absolute favourite cover of the original song, I appreciate the fact they had another version recorded especially. Really very little to complain abut here.
Score: 20/20

CHARACTERS

This is where some marks might disappear. Start with Ash, because he is the best character in this. His journey in the film from unprepared rookie to a lionhearted warrior is truly perfect. I only wish they had more time in the film to expand that further.

Verity, as i said earlier on, was clearly a replacement for Dawn for whatever reason. She had a nice personality, and an interesting look, but I just wish they could have had her deviate a bit more from Dawn’s formula (has a Piplup, from Twinleaf Town, has a famous mother). But she’s still a sweet character and importantly, she wasn’t too screechy or whiny.

Sorrel was probably the weaker character, apart from one thing: his backstory. I alluded to a frozen Luxray earlier, and this is it: when he was younger, he and his Luxray got caught in a blizzard, with Luxray keeping him warm. When he came to, he was fine. Sadly however, Luxray had frozen to death. They really didn’t mess about there.

The saddest thing about that however, is that it meant nothing, because his confidence issues and wariness of Pokemon afterwards were never brought up again.

The villain was Cross. No, i don’t mean that he was quite grumpy, his name was ACTUALLY Cross. He transitioned during the film from an aggressive, egotistical dick to just the first two (hey, nobody’s perfect eh?), being determined to prove he’s stronger than anybody else. His line peddling of only being interested in “strong” pokemon provided a perfect foil to Ash as well, calling back to Ash’s best rival from the anime, Paul.

The characters are a mixed bag. There was lots of good about them, but there was also significant bad points for two of them. I just wish they’d shown consistency with Sorrel, and actually written Verity’s character… at all.
Score: 12/20

Overall IMPRESSIONS

Pokemon: I Choose You was an excellent film. It was a movie which felt like it was greater than the sum of it’s parts. The film felt as long as it was, but that is no bad thing, as it was mostly entertaining throughout.

They especially did a great job of getting the emotion over to the point where you actually felt it yourself. I really enjoyed the film, and it’s between this and the equally atmospheric Pokemon 5 (Pokemon Heroes) in terms of my favourite Pokemon film.
Score: 18/20
Overall Score: 84/100

That’s all from me then. As usual if you want to check out my stories you can do that, my fanfiction name is Primal WolfBlood. I’m on Facebook and on Twitter (@PhiltheRenegade). Until next time, Viva La Revolution!

Written by Phil Robinson
(P.S. If you don’t know what a MILF is, ask your parents/older siblings/any irresponsible adult).

2019 World Snooker Championship Preview: Part 1

So this Saturday heralds the return of the snooker world championship. 128 players rolled up last week to the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, all with the same aim of qualifying, having made their preparations (or in the case of Michael Judge, rushing down from Dublin last minute).

Some matches went quickly (4 whitewashes), some slowly (Thanks Peter Lines and Michael Judge for keeping people up till 3). In the end, 16 men (sorry Reanne and Ng Onyee, there’s always next year) survived there rounds, winning 30 frames to make it to hallowed ground: The Crucible Theatre (which is just the other side of the city).

I will be filming my travels and exploits in Sheffield on Saturday, and in another first for me (how long until I run out of firsts?), will be uploading the videos to YouTube.

Anyway, the purpose of this blog entry is to introduce the first round ties, analysing the seeds and the underdogs, and giving my picks for who wins and who will walk away with the trophy. Let’s start with the World Champion and International Playboi, The Welsh Pub Machine, Mark Williams.

Mark Williams (1) vs. Martin Gould

This season has largely felt like the Mark Williams Invitational Pub Crawl. In his defence, he has turned up to more tournaments than I expected and even won one this season. As for the rest of the season, there isn’t much to report in all honesty. But Mark will want to give a good showing, and would like to not go out in the Last 16 this time (like he did the first two times he defended a world title).

His opponent in Martin Gould is rather inconsistent. On his day he is more than good enough to win, and scores very heavily. But too often he looks lackluster, and I have never been enthused by his safety game. Gould put in an excellent performance in the last qualifier though to beat a plucky Daniel Wells though.

Gould, though a great player, doesn’t look like challenging Williams, and I don’t see it being curtains for the champ in Day 1 for the second tournament on a row.
Prediction: Williams, 10-3

David Gilbert (16) vs. Joe Perry

If you had shown this match to any snooker fan 12 months ago, they would have likely thought Perry would be the seed such is his stature in the game. But we’re here with one of the tighter matches (the gap in the rankings is only 2 places).

Such is the season Gilbert is having, having reached two Ranking finals this season, and a further three QFs. “The Angry Farmer” as he is comically known has been one of the stories of the season.

As for Perry, his season has been quieter. However he ran rampant in qualifying, dropping only 5 frames in 3 matches. Make no mistake: when he gets going, Perry can still play with the best of them. There’s also the small matter of him pulverising Selby last season, and holding Mark Allen for two sessions.

This match up could go either way. On balance I’m backing Gent, for the experience. But can easily see it going the other way.
Prediction: Perry, 10-8

Barry Hawkins (9) vs. Li Hang

So, we come to our first of SEVEN debutants (the most this century). The tour’s Chinese contingent tends to fall into two catagories: younger players with much promise, and older players who have underachieved.

Li Hang is one of the latter category. Having first turned pro in 2008, it wasn’t until last season that he really gained traction, reaching his first Quarter (and Semi) final.

Li is a real scrapper, and proving to be very good at it. He’s come off a final qualifying match against Ben Wollaston where his highest break was 53 (he only made one ton in 30 frames won at the EIS), so he will have to score better if he’s going to be a serious challenger. Graft and grit however, get you a long way in such a marathon of a tournament.

That’s really where the good news ends for Li however. If you could choose a seed to face, you likely wouldn’t pick somebody who has reached the Last 8 every year since reaching the final in 2013, including FOUR semi-final defeats, and is arguably THE best scrapper on tour. Such is the task facing Li Hang.

Bazza has not had a good season. The past two years have been curious for him, as he tends to struggle for form through most of the season, do enough to be around the Top 10 in the rankings, and then suddenly be an all-conquering demon at the Crucible.

It has become customary at this time of the year in the Hawkins household to discuss the results of the season with a spare five minutes (that’s all it takes really). But Barry is living proof that nobody talks about how bad your season was if you do well here.

As for the result, it’s difficult to look past Barry here. Li will need to settle quickly, and he’ll need all his fight and grit to get close to Barry, who could run away with it if playing well. If Barry isn’t playing well, it could be very scrappy.
Prediction: Hawkins, 10-5

Kyren Wilson (8) vs. Scott Donaldson

From the match I am probably looking forward to the least to the one I’m looking forward to the most. I could talk for hours about why I love these two.

Kyren has had a really strong season, and comes into this tournament as the truest definition of a dark horse. He’s won the German double of the Paul Hunter Classic (in Furth) and the German Masters (in the atmospheric and beloved Tempodrom (Berlin), as well as the invitational 6-Reds Championship, and a further four Quarter-Finals in Ranking events. If you include non-ranking events, he’s reached the Last 8 (or better) of 10 tournaments, a truly fantastic record, and resides in the World’s top 8. He improves every year at the Crucible, and he’ll be hard to stop this year.

As for Scott, it’s been a breakout season for him as well. Having started the season 58th in the world, Semi-Finals in Furth and recently in the China Open have seen him rise to the brink of the Top 32 (provisionally ranked 34th). And now the man from Perth (Scotland, not Australia) has reached the World Championships for the first time (despite his best efforts to lose against Lu Ning).

If Scott plays at his best, this will be a very good match. But ultimately he’d likely need Kyren to be below par to win. I can see him coming close though, and this could be a name-making performance.
Prediction: Kyren, 10-8

John Higgins (5) vs. Mark Davis

John insists he’s happy with the draw, but there must be a part of him wishing he’d got anybody else. His season has been up and down, with him clearly struggling with motivation at times. But the fact remains that he has been in the past two finals here.

It’s nice to see Mark back at the top table after a few years away, in a season where he finally reached a ranking final, aged 46. A 10-7 victory against the highly-rated Lyu Haotian proved his form and stamped his ticket to this stage.

Now for the reason John might have wished for a different opponent. Mark has a superior head-to-head against Higgins, 10 wins to 7. 6 years ago, a merely 40 year old Davis beat Higgins at this stage. It’s not likely to be the prettiest match in the world (we’ll get to that later), but it is far from a long shot to say that the man his friends call Smiler could pull the same trick again. And maybe this will signal the end of The Wizard as a top threat.
Prediction: Davis, 10-9

Stuart Bingham (12) vs. Graeme Dott

With the amount of great players in the qualifiers, you’re almost bound to get a meeting of former World Champions at this stage. Bingham went all the way in 2015, but has never looked like getting there since. However in a season where he isn’t being touted as a threat despite 7 ranking quarter-finals, maybe he’ll be the surprise package again. If you hadn’t already guessed, “Ball-Run” has done quite well this season.

Graeme Dott is a little bit of a curious case (like Benjamin Button). He is clearly well past his best now, and for the most part has done little in recent seasons, but despite that has only failed to qualify once since the turn of the millennium. His disposal of Kurt Maflin 10-2 in the qualifiers was efficient and expertly handled.

But Bingham is a much different threat to Maflin. And against a top threat, it’s difficult to back Dotty anymore. As for Stuart, if he continues his excellent form of the season, there’s no reason why he can’t go far, and should be far too good here.
Prediction: Bingham, 10-5

Shaun Murphy (13) vs. Luo Honghao

The term “Annus Horribilis” refers to a terrible, no good year. Such a term could describe Shaun’s season, but even that would be putting it mildly. Murphy just never got going this season, and it’s a shame to see such a great player struggling so. Not even a final in the Scottish Open can paper over the cracks.

Shaun’s even lost his crown of the best piano player on tour to Honghao, the winner last year of the first ever WSF Championship (and to date the only one). It’s been a promising start on tour for Honghao, who did excellently early on but has slowed down since. In qualifying he saw off veteran Marco Fu, very impressively.

Honghao has done well since coming on tour and will make lovely music there (just check out his piano playing on youtube!) for years to come, but Shaun’s got a point to prove. And a Smurph with a point to prove can be the most dangerous foe of all.
Prediction: Murphy, 10-6

That’s all for Part 1, Part 2 will have the rest of the draw and my overall pick.