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.


How to Train Your Dragon III: THE HIDDEN WORLD. A review

Today, I went to see a film at the cinema for the first time since school. It was a film called How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. This would prove to be interesting, as it is the first film by Dreamworks Animation since their takeover by Universal. For this film, I will split my review into five catagories: Graphics, Plot, Score, Characters, and Overall Impressions, For each one, I will score out of 20, to give a nice round score out of 100. So will the influence of Universal have an effect on the quality of the final product?

Graphics

I could sum this up within a line if I wished. But I will put more detail in for you all. The graphics in this film were absolutely gorgeous. And I mean gorgeous, I cannot put into perspective how good they were. There are not words.

I think the best way I can describe it is that all the characters look… human. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it’s very difficult and rare to have animated characters that look completely human, completely believeable.

As for the scenery, they really pushed the boat out on this one. Berk used to be a quaint little Viking village. Now though? It’s a bustling dragon community growing by the second. And they have put the same attention to detail into every little part of Berk, from the houses to the cliffs, even to the snow on the rooftops. I really cannot score the graphics anything other than top marks.
Rating: 20/20

Plot

The plot of the film in basics is the same as the last one – An evil, possibly psychotic Dragon hunter targets Toothless, the rare and mystical Night Fury, in the quest to catch all the dragons.

That is where the similarities begin and end. Grimmel is a very different animal to Dragon from Film 2, which I will point out later. The plot of this film was very much catered to continuing the story told in number 2, as well as Dragons: Race to the Edge on Netflix.

The entire first third of the film was dedicated to Hiccup and Astrid’s story, with the constant will they won’t they of marriage, as well as balancing the demands of a relationship and being chief. A rather amusing minor plot meanwhile, was Snotlout’s constant pursuit of Valka, Hiccup’s mother.

And now for the villains. The main villain is Grimmel the Grisly, assisted by his three underlings if you will; Griselda (voiced by Vick Hope), Ragnar (voiced by Olufur Darri Olafson), and Chagtai Khan (voiced by David Tennant).

I appreciated the fact that at no point did Grimmel feel like a replacement for any previous villans, instead having his own motivations and desires.

As the plot progressed, it became clear that Hiccup and Toothless were on their own individual stories, and that them being in each other’s stories was putting them both in danger.

The scene near the end with the Dragons and Humans leaving each other was just beautiful and tearjerking. It really did an excellent job of bringing the story full circle from dragons being feared and kept away for peace to dragons being sent away with love for peace.

Overall, the plot was really strong. It achieved the difficult balance of bringing the plot full circle and saying why the dragons are no longer with us, while also keeping the story somewhat open to future adaptations. The only thing I would say is that the plot did feel slightly recycled from the last film.
Overall: 18/20

Score

The score for each film has been conducted by John Powell, and the first two films were spot on, with the music perfectly reflecting not only the tone of the scene, but also the traditional theme of the film.

As for this film? Well he’s done it again, put it that way. The music isn’t something that can really be described, more experienced, preferably on your own in a quiet, distraction-free environment, or with the film itself.

There is just a certain magic to the music of the film, from the beautifully calm strings to the rousing, triumphant updraft of the music as it progresses (I’m probably sounding like Beethoven now!)

I’d love to pick a fault in the score, but… well, there just isn’t one. I can’t fault the film at all for the music and the sound. It’s not just something you listen to, it’s something that you feel. And I feel the soundtrack for these films like I feel no others.
Overall: 20/20

Characters

The usual cast of characters were back, along with a couple of new ones. The main character, as usual, was Hiccup. Early on it looked like there hadn’t been much development in his character, but as the film wore on, it became clear that he was walking a tightrope between being a good chief and being a dragon lover, eventually having to choose between the two and give up his dream.

The villain of the whole operation was Grimmel the Grisly. Again, early on he seemed to be cut from the same cloth as Drago. However, it soon became clear that they differed in their motivations. Drago hunted Dragons for making an embarrassment of him, whereas Grimmel lives for the thrill of the hunt, and specifically hunted all the Night Furies to the verge of extinction purely for the thrill and for the accolades it brought him.

Snotlout provided the comedy relief in the film, with his affections having shifted from Astrid (in Film 1 and the TV series) to Ruffnut (at the start of Film 2) to Valka in this movie. His constant macho rivalry with ex-hunter Eret, Son of Eret was entertaining throughout, and fitted in perfectly with his character traits that we love.

The true star of the film though, was Astrid. I had an issue with the fact that she was rather underused and neglected for much of the second film, but that was corrected in this film, and in a big way.

In this final instalment, Astrid went from glorified cheerleader to the most integral part of the plot, being Hiccup’s moral guide and providing the guiding hand and voice of confidence which he largely lacked as the struggling young chief.

The theme between the two of getting married was bounced around a lot early on in the film, and Astrid’s playful personality and steely grit proved to be exactly what the story needed. I’m sounding like a broken record now, but there really wasn’t much that could/should have been changed with the characters.
Overall: 19/20

Overall Impressions

In this final section, the film will be rated on how well it fitted the individual factors together. The film lasted for around 105 minutes, but it felt like about 30. This is no negative, instead being that time flew due to how good it was.

The film flowed like nothing I’ve ever seen. It changed direction constantly, from being light-hearted and comical, to a gripping thriller, to a tear-inducing drama, and finally a rousing, triumphant end.

The end credits were something that I will never forget equally. They acknowledged the history of the franchise and showed screenshots of some of Hiccup and Toothless’ most important scenes together, reminding everyone why they love the film so much.

Overall, this film was absolutely wonderful, and I would definitely say it’s the best film I have personally ever seen. I asked at the start of this review if the influence of Universal would affect film quality. Let’s put the answer this way – if this film is anything to go by, Dreamworks could be in Dreamland.

Overall Impressions: 20/20
Overall Film Rating: 97/100

Thank you for reading. If you like this review, you’ll love Dragon Heart, my story which takes an alternative look to the events after HTTYD2. You can find it at this link here:
https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11677220/1/Dragon-Heart

Snooker Review 1: Does Snooker have a gambling problem?

Image courtesy of World Snooker

On the 1st December 2018, two snooker players were found guilty of match-fixing, and banned. These players were Yu Delu (World number 52 as of his ban), and Cao Yupeng (World number 44 as of his ban). On their own, these would not contribute a crisis, merely a sad case of greed overcoming sense. In context however, a deeper issue is revealed. 

Figure 1: Cao Yupeng, one of the players banned for betting offences. 

To explore the issue of gambling, first, we need to explore the exact laws of the sport’s governing body, the WPBSA, to understand the exact offences being committed. 
The relevant laws are laws 2.1.1.1 and 2.1.2.1. 

2.1.1.1: A breach of the rules to place, accept, lay or otherwise make a Bet with any other person in relation to the result, score, progress, conduct or any other aspect of the Tour and/or any Tournament or Match officially sanctioned by the relevant governing bodies. 

2.1.2.1: A breach of the rules to fix or contrive, or to be a party to any effort to fix or contrive, the result, score, progress, conduct or any other aspect of the Tour and/or any Tournament or Match. 

Now you can see the issues. The rules are clear in so much as you are not allowed to place bets on any matches, regardless of whether you are in the match or not. 

However, here is my issue. Under Barry Hearn, the sport of Snooker had grown exponentially. The sport is in ruder health than arguably ever before. But this rapid growth has come at a cost. 

The way the tour is run, players have to pay for their own travel to venues. This can get especially problematic when you are grafting to try and stay on tour, and spending any money you earn on travelling to your next tournament, hoping for that big break (no pun intended!)

This, inevitably, leads to some players looking to make money elsewhere. And betting is a lucrative way of doing this. The reason for this, is to do with Psychology (which is kind of handy!)

Gambling is often times described as a mug’s game. But the truth is that it is only a mug’s game if you cannot analyse the field correctly. I am not claiming that gambling is 100% fool proof, as all gambling carries an element of risk. 

What I am saying is that you can analyse. It only takes you to look at head-to-head records, current form, history in certain events/venues etc. The point I make is that you can make much money from playing the bookies and choosing long odds which you are confident in. 

My bigger issue with the gambling however, is sponsorship. The so called “Triple Crown” of Snooker (UK Championship, Masters, World Championships) are all sponsored by betting companies (Betway, Dafabet, and Betfred respectively). The last time any of these events was not sponsored by a gambling company was 2009 (Pukka Pies for the UK). 

I completely understand the reasons why these events are sponsored by gambling companies. These companies will offer their sponsorship, and much prize money, to encourage the humble working fan to place a bet with their company. 

On a personal note, this works. I placed my first ever bet in 2017. It was on the Snooker World Championship. And do you know where I placed the bet? That’s right – Betfair. Because they sponsored the event and therefore I thought of them first. 

So what’s my point then? My point is that the corruption of betting in snooker is caused in part by these betting companies sponsoring. Where is the encouragement to resist temptation when the temptation seemingly comes from the governing bodies themselves? 

I am not encouraging or glorifying betting or corruption by any means. The laws are there for a reason, and anyone who breaches them must be punished accordingly. 

So we come back to out initial question: Does snooker have a gambling problem? My answer is No. There are 128 players on tour at any one time, and over 120 of them can spend their time on tour apparently without breaching any betting laws. But I end on a more poignant question, regarding the players who have been caught out on these laws: Greed? Or Opportunity?

Project Spire + Blog additions.

Hi, not been here for a while, just an announcement about Project Spire. If you don’t remember, I don’t blame you, Project Spire is my plan to write my own novel, completely separate to my fanfictions.

Scheduling and ideas issues have lead to Project Spire to be entrenched in the planning stages in recent months. I am considering different ideas, but there is going to be nothing significant in the near future probably.

Therefore, this blog will become more of a general writing blog again. I will be sharing my views on writing, some of my stories, and any updates on my ambitions.

Please note that in no way is this me giving up on my dreams to have my own novel. Rather, it is an admission that I underestimated the challenges of completely fabricating an entire universe of my own creation. It will happen. It’s more of a not now. I am hoping to resume the planning in the coming days.

Also, I will be adding sporting content in the coming days: Snooker. I did predictions for the Snooker World Championships in April, but had to stop after the second round as I was revising for exams in early May. Thankfully I breezed through the exams, and am now preparing for University Year 2.

The snooker content will be opinions of mine on various news subjects, as well as predictions and previews for the major tournaments: Champion of Champions, UK Championship, Masters, and World Championships.

That’s all for now, until next time folks.