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)

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