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…
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!