Thursday, 18 April 2019


The 16 qualifiers have battled there way through, the seeds are ready and raring to go and snooker fans from across the globe are set to take over Sheffield's Crucible Theatre in the next 17 days. That can only mean one thing. The World Championships are here and from Saturday morning 31 players will be aiming to take the trophy from the grasps of Mark Williams after his sensational triumph last year. 

His final over John Higgins was one of the best for a number of years and will live long in the memory of anyone who witnessed it live or on TV. For those that were in the press room for the naked press conference afterwards, they probably have an image they wish they could erase.

The 2018/2019 season up to this point has been dominated by Ronnie O'Sullivan and Neil Robertson. Both have picked up multiple titles and have actually taken each other on in a couple of finals already, and it is hard to rule out the possibility of the pair contesting this year's world final.

Plenty of other players will have something to say about that though. As Masters champion, Judd Trump will be hoping to complete his Grand Slam by adding a World title to his Masters and the 2011 UK Championship. John Higgins will be hoping it's third time lucky after narrow final defeats in 2017 and 2018, while Selby will want to put a first round exit at this year's UK Championships and a first round exit at last year's World Championships behind him and claim his fourth world title in six years.

Those are just some of the storylines, and there are plenty more in the qualifiers, with James Cahill being the first amateur to grace the Crucible, while four Chinese debutants will appear and a record total of six will feature overall. Cyprus has representation for the first time with Michael Georgiou, while experienced heads like 2006 World Champion Graeme Dott and two-time World finalist Ali Carter have also come through three gruelling rounds at the English Institute of Sport.

Quarter 1

Last 32 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Mark Williams Vs Martin Gould
David Gilbert Vs Joe Perry 
Barry Hawkins Vs Li Hang 
Kyren Wilson Vs Scott Donaldson

The first quarter is of course where we find defending champion Mark Williams hoping to put up a strong defence after a relatively poor season. The highlight for him was by far and away his World Open victory going back to last summer. In recent times he lost at the last 64 stage of the China Open and he fell at the same stage of his home tournament. More positive signs were his opening round tie against Judd Trump in the Tour Championship where he could easily have won and over a long distance that may bode well. The opening day pressure of being defending champion did for Selby last year and Bingham in 2016 while Selby only just survived in 2015 by the odd frame so funny things can happen on the opening day and that is something Williams has not experienced for 15 years since he last won the title before last year. His opening round opponent Martin Gould qualified after a 10-8 win against Daniel Wells on Judgement Day and his season highlight would be a Championship League win. He has picked and chosen his events this year a lot more which has perhaps led to a quieter season, as by his own admission, he has perhaps lacked match sharpness in the events he has played. While that won't be a problem after coming through three best-of-19's in a week, his record at the Crucible is more troubling. He has lost his last five first round matches, taking on John Higgins in 2017, Ding Junhui (as a seed) in 2016, Marco Fu in 2014, Shaun Murphy in 2013 and David Gilbert (as a seed) in 2012. Tough matches though they are, this year's is not any easier and while he can certainly make this a really close match, he may just fall short. Williams' form however does not point to a long stay at the Crucible this time around.

Next up is a match where the players involved are only separated by two places in the world rankings as 16th seed David Gilbert takes on world number 18 Joe Perry. 12 months ago Gilbert was outside of the top 16 and failed to qualify for the Crucible, with his last of four previous appearances coming in 2016. In all he has only ever won one match, against Gould in 2012 and lacks the same Crucible experience that Perry has. One year ago he was a match higher in the draw, taking on defending champion Mark Selby and sending him home with ease before losing in the last 16. This year he has qualified comfortably with three easy wins and looks like a player who knows he should be at the Crucible. Gilbert's early exits in the China Open, Welsh Open and Indian Open in recent times plus a narrow failure to make the Tour Championship left him open to a rankings overtake, but while it did not happen he will still go off second favourite against someone in Perry who will fancy his chances of going even further than last year. Having said that, a potential second round match against Mark Williams would be his third meeting of the season with the Welshman, with the aggregate score from the previous two being 10-1. In all though, this looks a tight match and though Perry is the favourite to edge it, either would have a very realistic chance of toppling the champion from his throne in round two.

Then comes the Crucible specialist Barry Hawkins against Chinese debutant Li Hang. Hawkins has reached at least the semi-finals now in five of the last six years, falling just short in 2016 and only winning one of those five semi-finals overall, which is the one damp patch on that record. Given that amount of opportunities, a lot of other players would have won the title at one point or another, but Hawkins has not managed that yet. This season has been a really quiet one for Hawkins. His last appearance saw him lose in the last 64 of the China Open, he failed to make the Tour Championships and lost in round one of the Players Championship as well as losing early in Wales. Usually his good runs in Sheffield have followed good performances in the couple of months prior to the tournament. be that reaching the Welsh and China Open finals last year, winning the World Grand Prix in 2017 or winning the PTC Grand Finals in 2014. Given his form this season you wonder if his good Crucible run may come to an end and whether he could lose his first last 32 match here since 2010. Li is one of four Chinese debutants this year and while he is the highest ranked he is probably the one that could be overlooked by some. He does not offer the excitement of Zhao Xintong, is not in his rookie year like Luo Honghao and nor has he defeated the big names in qualifying like Tian Pengfei did. However, he is a solid player who came through tight matches against Ian Burns and Ben Woollaston in the last two rounds and had good form coming to Sheffield after making the last 16 at the China Open. He can certainly score heavily and has more experience than some of the other Chinese players so may not freeze under the pressure that some debutants do. Overall, Hawkins will be fancied to come through but may not match his usual form this time around.

That leaves Kyren Wilson as a major contender for this year's World Championship when he opens up his campaign against another debutant in Scott Donaldson. A lot will be mentioned about Hawkin's Crucible record but given the number of appearances he has made, Wilson's is just as impressive. After losing in round one on his 2014 debut, he has now appeared in each of the last three years, making quarter-finals in 2016 and 2017 before reaching the semi-finals last year. Those were all against tough opponents, losing to eventual winner Selby in 2016, eventual runner-up Higgins in 2017 and Higgins again last year losing 13-8, 13-6 and 17-13. Last year was incredibly impressive as he came very close to Higgins but could never quite catch him after giving away an early deficit. This season Wilson has added to his trophy cabinet and upped his ranking title tally from one to three with two victories out in Germany. As well as that he made the UK Championship quarter-finals and qualified for the Tour Championships. He will be disappointed to have lost early in events over the last couple of months since winning the German Masters, but given the form of the other players in this quarter that is slightly less alarming, especially given his titles. In round one he faces a tough debutant in Donaldson who defeated Lu Ning 10-9 despite having led 9-4. Donaldson also reached the semi's in China recently as well as quarters in India and Wales, but his collapse in the final round of qualifying may be an alarming sign of things to come. In the end he tumbled over the line after missing several earlier opportunities to win and conceding three snookers in the decider after what had been a good break under pressure prior to that. He may well feel the pressure and those debut nerves and someone as ruthless as Wilson would take full advantage if that is the case. The impressive thing for me with Wilson is his attitude and determination as that seems to win him a lot of big games. If he did play Hawkins in the last 16 he has victories in the 2018 UK and Masters to look back on, and he will be full of confidence that he can continue his Crucible progression again this year. 

Best of the rest: Joe Perry
Quarter choice: Kyren Wilson 

Quarter 2

Last 32 draw: (Picks in bold)

John Higgins Vs Mark Davis
Stuart Bingham Vs Graeme Dott
Shaun Murphy Vs Luo Honghao 
Neil Robertson Vs Michael Georgiou

The second quarter is where we find the runner-up from the last two World Championships in John Higgins and he faces a really tough tie in round one against his bogey player Mark Davis. Excluding the Championship League - Davis leads the head to head with Higgins 8-5 (with Higgins winning four of their first five meetings). This includes at this season's English Open on Davis' impressive run to the final, a 10-6 first round win in the 2013 World Championships and a 6-5 win in the 2012 UK Championships. So not only has Davis beaten him a number of times, he has done so in big matches and at the Crucible. In qualifying he overcame tough match players in Rod Lawler and Fergal O'Brien before defeating Indian Open finalist Lu Haotian in the final round in a really tough match. His form overall has been decent this year with that final at the English Open, as well as another quarter-final in India so there are plenty of reasons why he could trouble Higgins. The Scot may have made the final here in the last two years and have all the Crucible experience in the world, but this season he has struggled for form and motivation at times. Last 64 exits have come at the UK Championships and the recent China Open, he failed to make the Tour Championship for the top eight players this season and overall he has lost to a number of players that he would usually defeat with ease. The last two years of heartbreak may be the inspiration he needs to have his game at 100% with a lot of practice, but drawing his bogey player in round one may be a sign that this is just not meant to be his year. If he can come through and show some form he certainly has two of the form players on the season in his potential path to the one-table set-up so he will need to be 100%.

One of those players is 2015 World Champion Stuart Bingham who starts off his campaign against 2006 World Champion Graeme Dott. Bingham leads Dott 8-3 in the head to head, including a 13-5 win at the last 16 stage in the year Bingham became World Champion. Dott last beat Bingham five and a half years ago and they have met six times since then, which despite all of his Crucible prowess does not bode well for the Scot at all. Dott qualified easily with comfortable wins against Hamza Akbar, Xu Si and Kurt Maflin, so not necessarily the toughest qualifying section but a certain improvement on his form of the rest of the season. This has been one of Dott's worst seasons for a while and he needs to put that behind him if he is to beat Bingham. Overall, you would think Dott will need to score heavily and take his chances because Bingham is likely to be scoring heavily himself. His heavy scoring form has been there for all to see in his run to winning the Gibraltar Open, making the Welsh Open final and reaching the China Open quarter-finals in the last few weeks, as well as winning the English Open final and making the UK Championship semi-finals in the first half of the season. If you look at Bingham's Crucible form outside of 2015 he has only ever reached one further quarter-final, but because of the win in 2015 he has to be considered as a serious contender and with the form he has been in this season, he is the most likely candidate to push my quarter choice in this section.

The former World Champions keep on coming in this section with 2005 winner Shaun Murphy starting his campaign against Chinese debutant and tour rookie Luo Honghao. It is very difficult to make a case for Murphy in this year's tournament. His season has been a nightmare from start to finish, except from one week in Glasgow where he reached a final. Apart from that he has only gone beyond the last 32 of a ranking event once this season and that was last September so he has absolutely no form to bring to Sheffield. It is hard to say what has gone wrong because very little has gone right for him in all honesty. Having said that, a poor season has given him a lot of time to work on his game before the Crucible, putting him in the best possible shape he can be and leaving him very fresh. His Crucible form since losing the 2015 final to Bingham has mirrored that of Bingham's with first round defeats in 2016 and last year as well as last 16 loss in 2017, so that is also a little disappointing for him. His round one opponent Luo is not only a debutant at the Crucible but his run in the qualifiers comes in his first ever World Championships which makes it an even more impressive effort. Along the way he beat a top player in Marco Fu, a three-time Crucible qualifier in Robbie Williams and another experienced player in Tom Ford so he that shows he is more than capable of beating Murphy if he handles those debut nerves. The other highlight of his season was an English Open quarter-final but there were also a number of first round exits besides that so his wins may have come as a surprise to some. Overall, Murphy's season and lack of action in the last four weeks or so, coupled with Luo's lack of World Championship experience make this a real tough game to call and it has the potential to be a first round match that goes the distance.

Finally in this section, 2010 World Champion Neil Robertson who is one of this year's tournament favourites takes on Cypriot debutant Michael Georgiou. Robertson is in some places the joint second favourite with Judd Trump after an excellent season. In all he has picked up titles at the recent China Open, February's Welsh Open and the season opening Riga Masters. Further finals have been made at the International Championship, Players Championship and the Tour Championship, as well as making the Masters semi-finals before losing to eventual winner Trump. Not only does he look back to his best but he may be playing as well as he ever has. At the World Championship overall, he matches the last three years of Bingham and Murphy with two first round losses in 2016 and 2018 and a last 16 loss in 2017. In 2015 he narrowly missed out on the semi-finals after narrowly missing out on the 2014 final. Despite those last three years he has a lot of Crucible pedigree and has been one of the very best players this season which makes him a natural favourite for this title and certainly the most likely player to come through the top half of the draw. His first round opponent Georgiou is someone he has played before this season, at this year's Welsh Open, where Robertson only conceded 44 points in four frames. While it will not be quite that dominant again in this match you have to say that it looks like one of the easier ties Robertson could have drawn, and is a match that he could dominate and get through comfortably. If he scores as heavily, as frequently and easily as he has done for much of the season but especially in the last two months then those around him may have to play one of the games of their lives if they are going to beat Robertson. This feels like a year when Robertson could finally claim a second world title and join an exclusive club of two-time winners. 

Best of the rest: Stuart Bingham
Quarter choice: Neil Robertson

Quarter 3 

Last 32 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Mark Selby Vs Zhao Xintong
Luca Brecel Vs Gary Wilson
Jack Lisowski Vs Ali Carter
Mark Allen Vs Zhou Yuelong

The top of the third quarter is where we find three-time champion of the last five years Mark Selby and he faces one of the most dangerous qualifiers in round one, taking on Zhao Xintong. Selby has been knocked off the top spot in the world rankings by Ronnie O'Sullivan and has had a poor season by his standards. He may have won a title at the China Championships but he has delivered little in the real meat of the season. A last 128 exit at the China Open was a big surprise but not as a big of a surprise as losing in round one of the UK Championships to James Cahill before the BBC even arrived in York. He also lost in round one of the Tour Championships 9-8 having led 6-2 after the first session, which given his dominance of long matches over the last few years was another bad loss. While his Crucible form has been incredible in recent years, he showed a lot of vulnerability last year as he fell easily to Joe Perry in round one, which was one of the worst draws he could have had last year. That has happened again as he takes on Zhao Xintong who for me is the best of all the Chinese youngsters. It is impossible for me to exaggerate how good I think this 22-year-old potter is. I have watched him up close a few times this season and he makes break building look like the most natural thing in the world, he walks around the table with a confidence and demeanour of someone who does not think he can miss and he looks so incredibly laid back. It has been a long time since a young player has made the game look as easy as he has this season. In the qualifiers he defeated a quality player in Noppon Saengkham with plenty to spare, before thrashing Indian Open winner Matthew Selt 10-4 in the final round with one of the best spells of snooker you could wish for to go from 2-2 to 7-2 inside an hour. That is the danger with him is that he can rattle off frames and leave you in your seat for long periods of time without getting much of a chance. In the China Championships this season he had his best finish to date, making the semi-finals with some great wins before losing very narrowly to Mark Selby 6-4. It bodes well that under such nerves and pressure of a big semi-final he gave Selby such a good game because similar nerves will hit for his Crucible debut. If he can win against Selby he will not be finished there in this Championship, but if Selby can come through and play his best it will be a massive confidence boost that could help him along to another deep Crucible run.

Next up is Luca Brecel against Gary Wilson in a match where one of the players will score a first Crucible victory in what sets up to be a really close game. Brecel is yet to register a win from his three Crucible appearances, losing from 7-1 up to Marco Fu in 2017 and losing as a seed last year against Ricky Walden. Wilson meanwhile made his debut back in 2017 giving Ronnie O'Sullivan a pretty good game overall and he will be very confident that if he can play near his best and score as well as he can that he has a brilliant chance. Wilson qualified with wins over Sanderson Lam, Dominic Dale and Liang Wenbo, taking the game away from Liang in the latter half of the match after a tight opening session. Brecel meanwhile had suffered a very average season but will have gained a little bit of confidence after making the semi-finals of the China Open. That was the first time Brecel had reached a ranking quarter-final in well over a year though so it shows how long he has been in average form for and is not the form of a World Championship contender. If he plays as he had been prior to Beijing then he is incredibly vulnerable to a quality player in Wilson.

Jack Lisowski faces an incredibly tough test in round one of his first year as a World Championship seed as he faces two-time finalist Ali Carter. This is only Lisowski's third Crucible appearance after making his debut in 2013 and then qualifying again last year, beating Stuart Bingham before being taken apart by John Higgins. Carter meanwhile had to qualify three years ago and on that occasion he too defeated Stuart Bingham so whether a seed or qualifier, Carter can still perform. Last year of course he was a seed, beating Graeme Dott and then Ronnie O'Sullivan to make the quarter-finals and there is only one man in this match with any Crucible pedigree. Carter in the end qualified easily with wins over Jimmy White and John Astley in the last two rounds. He has not been in bad form by any means, making the final of February's World Grand Prix where he came close to Trump, though of course Lisowski was a finalist at the recent China Open and in the season opening Riga Masters, though the middle part of his season, prior to the China Open had been a bit more of a struggle for Lisowski and at times he still seems to show a lack of experience. That certainly does not bode well for a match with someone who is so good over long matches and if Carter could beat Lisowski he could prove to be a serious dark horse in the draw.

Mark Allen though is my third quarter choice and he faces Zhou Yuelong in the opening round. Zhou qualified with good wins in tough ties against Robin Hull, Liam Highfield and Eden Sharav to make the Crucible for the second time, having previously appeared in 2017, losing in round one to Ding on that occasion. He has never faced Allen before so there is nothing to go there but his lack of Crucible experience could be a decisive factor in this one. It had not been the most stand out season for Zhou prior to this but it was not a surprise to see him qualify as he was still the stand out player in his section of the draw when the draw was made. On to Allen, he had an exceptional first half to the season winning the International Championship, reaching the UK Championship final and winning the Scottish Open, seeing him top the money list until the last couple of tournaments. Since Christmas his form has slightly dipped and I think that may just be that he took the foot off the gas slightly. His concession at the World Grand Prix is the concerning thing for those backing him for Sheffield this year. It leaves question marks over his focus and temperament to do something like that, given how big a test this is. Perhaps it goes some way to explaining why last year was the first time since 2011 that he had gone beyond the last 16. Having said that, he has never come to the Crucible off the back of a season like this one. This is the first season in which he had won mulitple ranking titles, taking his tally from three to five and his win in Glasgow only really needed his B game until the final. Last time out Allen withdrew from China for 'personal reasons' and while I hope everything is fine, it may have also given him better preparation time and the rest he needs to make sure his mind is right for an assault on the world title, because this season has shown he can go up a gear and that he could do well here finally.  

Best of the rest: Zhao Xintong
Quarter choice: Mark Allen 

Quarter 4

Last 32 draw: (Picks in bold)

Judd Trump Vs Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 
Ding Junhui Vs Anthony McGill
Stephen Maguire Vs Tian Pengfei 
Ronnie O'Sullivan Vs James Cahill

The fourth and final quarter is headlined by the world number one Ronnie O'Sullivan taking on the first ever amateur to qualify for the Crucible in James Cahill. There have been some David Vs Goliath style matches at the Crucible before but none that quite set up like this one. Cahill has been on the tour before, though this will be his Crucible debut, and he will be back on tour next season courtesy of the fact that he has outperformed over half of the tour playing as a top-up. The first thing to say in defence of Cahill for those thinking he has no chance is that he beat Mark Selby at the UK Championships this season. He showed a lot of bottle to qualify, surviving 10-9 in the first qualifier against Andrew Higginson despite going 9-8 down from 8-2 up, before going on to beat Michael's Holt and Judge. In three previous meetings between Ronnie and Cahill, O'Sullivan has won all three but at scorelines of 5-3 (was 3-3), 6-4 (with Cahill fighting back from 5-1 down), and 6-3. Ideas that he cannot at least take a few frames off of O'Sullivan are amazingly naive. O'Sullivan has been in a class above at times again this season, winning the Tour Championship, Players Championship, UK Championship, Champion of Champions and the Shanghai Masters as well as reaching the Northern Ireland Open and Masters finals. Having said all of that he had won a number of these titles last season but at the Crucible he failed to deliver, struggling initially in round one against Stephen Maguire before losing in the last 16 to Ali Carter. This year his draw may be easier but beyond the last 16 he could have some really tough games if he is to win his first world title in 2013. In all, he has not reached the one table set-up since losing the 2014 final, falling in two last 16 ties and two quarter-finals which certainly gives plenty of hope to those in this quarter.

After last year's collapse, Stephen Maguire will hardly be delighted to find himself in Ronnie O'Sullivan's section but first he must get through against Chinese debutant Tian Pengfei. On paper, Tian is outside of the top 64 and on his Crucible debut the nerves could get to him and this may not be a bad draw for Maguire. In reality, Maguire last won a first round match as a seed in 2012, with his only wins since then coming as a qualifier in 2017. Tian meanwhile has already seen the back of world number 17 Ryan Day and another experienced long match player in Matthew Stevens, beating Day 10-3 and leading Stevens 9-3 before being pegged back to 9-8 and eventually winning 10-8. Tian has also reached two quarter-finals this season at the European Masters and Gibraltar Open as well as the last 16 of the Scottish Open and the last 32 of the UK Championship, showing he is a very capable player. Maguire this season has made three semi-finals and a UK Championship quarter-final but not really threatened to win that illusive first ranking title since 2013 and in the last few events he has lost in the last 32 of the China Open, the first round of the Players Championship and the last 128 of the Welsh Open so much of his good form was in the first half of the season. It would not be a surprise to see Tian cause the upset here, but whoever comes through will be really up against it against O'Sullivan.

Ding Junhui's quest to be the first Chinese World Champion starts off against Anthony McGill in round one this year. Ding has won all four previous meetings with McGill, including a 13-4 win in the last 16 here 12 months ago, which certainly bodes well for Ding. In all, McGill in a similar situation to when he met Ding last year is lucky to be here after coming from 7-2 down to defeat Robert Milkins in the final qualifying round, having already beaten Ashley Hugill and Duane Jones. McGill has not had his greatest season but he has put that behind him somewhat by making the China Open last 16 and then qualifying for the Crucible so that should help his confidence, and as a quarter-finalist in 2015 he has plenty of Crucible experience now in what is his fifth appearance. As for Ding, he is probably going in this year slightly under the radar, at least in the UK media given that he is in the same quarter as O'Sullivan and Judd Trump and as he has had a pretty average season. The latest surprise loss came in the last 64 of the China Open and he has suffered a number of last 16 losses this season, as well as picking and choosing his events since the birth of his first child. A lot is made of Ding's 'failure' to have won a world title but he still has plenty of time left in his career and has reached the quarter-finals in five of the last six World Championships, with a final in 2016 and a semi-final in 2017. If he could find some form and beat McGill in round one he would likely face Trump in the last 16 and he does lead the head to head with Trump 6-5 (excluding Championship League). This includes a 9-4 win in the 2016 International Championship and a 13-10 win in the World Championship of the same year. Trump did win 13-4 a year earlier and famously won their 2011 World semi-final though so he has the slight edge in their Crucible meetings.

That leads me nicely to my fourth and final quarter choice in the joint second favourite in Judd Trump who opens up with a dangerous match against Thepchaiya Un-Nooh. The difficulty of his first round match could actually be a help rather than a hindrance to him though. When he was massively fancied in 2017 and lost 10-9 in round one to Rory McLeod he spoke about how he was the best in the world and could not lose to McLeod, and you wonder if he was not quite fully focused and there's no way he can get away with making the same statements here against Thepchaiya. If you look at how Trump won the Masters earlier this year he did so by having tough matches in every round and needing to be on top of his game, which if you look at the draw is likely to be the case again here. As for Thepchaiya, he has qualified for the second year in succession with wins against Mark Joyce and young Joe O'Connor along the way and he has looked very dangerous ever since winning the Shoot-Out a couple of months ago. It looks to have given him a lot of confidence, as he has always been a dangerous player and one of the heaviest scoring. When he qualified last year he took seven frames off of John Higgins who went on to the final so it would be no surprise if he pushes Trump close here, even if Trump is playing well. Trump is undoubtedly playing well, despite a last 64 loss in China recently and is a worthy second favourite for this title, but with that comes a lot of expectation and pressure as there was in 2017 when he lost to McLeod and that expectation is growing every year. This time though he looks in a better place to be able to handle that than he ever has before. After close calls in last year's quarter-final, the 2015 and 2013 semi-finals and the 2011 final, he may finally be ready to take that big leap to the top and take home this title. 

Best of the rest: Ronnie O'Sullivan
Quarter choice: Judd Trump
World Champion selection: Neil Robertson

With so many dangerous qualifiers and a host of top title contenders this could be another exciting World Championships, so sit back and enjoy the festival of snooker to come. 

Fantasy Snooker: The Final Furlong

It's time for the final furlong in the 2018/2019 Fantasy Snooker League with just the World Championships left to go.

It's still all to play for with the World Championships being a double points event, so if you can pick the two finalists then you're certainly still in the hunt, particularly if you find yourself in that top 10 in the table.

The latest points from the China Open have been added and Shaun Hunt is the big mover after picking overall winner Neil Robertson for that one. Also added are season points from the three rounds of World Championship qualifying for participants who selected a player who has gone on to be one of the 16 Crucible qualifiers. These points have already been added to the table below and for those that did not pick a Crucible qualifier, no qualifying points have been added.

Here is how the table looks ahead of the final stretch:

Matt Butler 1118

Kellie Barker 1078

Ryan Duckett 1021

Phil Mudd 965

Shaun Hunt 963

LTD Syndicate 952

Daz Muckian 937

Stephen McCabe 934

Munraj Pal 933

Kim Kristensen 932

Daniel Gavin 928

Rob Francis 917

Cluster of Reds 916

Pete Tscherewik 913

The Cue View 906

Anatole Compton 902

Daniela Reich 901

Rob Chipp 882

Andy (APB147) 865

Tungsten Darts 854

FAM147 844

Anthony (antow73) 815

Alex Abrahams 805

Chris Watts 789

Martin Pearlman 774
Phil Robinson 774

Dani M (esnukero) 767

Markus 733
Steven Bunn 733

Voihelevettisua 724

Debbie Dymott 690

Kelvin Platten 619

Andrew Devonshire 610

Meanwhile, here are a list of all players that participants have selected three times and CANNOT select again for the World Championships. If you do not check this table and pick someone you have already selected three times - you WILL NOT receive any points.


Matt Butler: Neil Robertson, Stuart Bingham, Judd Trump, Ding Junhui, Barry Hawkins, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Selby.

Ryan Duckett: Mark Allen, Judd Trump, Barry Hawkins, Kyren Wilson, Mark Selby.

Kellie Barker: Jack Lisowski, Ding Junhui, Neil Robertson, Stuart Bingham, Mark Selby.

Rob Chipp: Jack Lisowski, Neil Robertson, Stuart Bingham, Shaun Murphy, Ding Junhui, Mark Selby.

Daz Muckian: Luca Brecel, Neil Robertson, Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Munraj Pal: John Higgins, Mark Selby, Mark Williams, Ding Junhui.

Phil Mudd: Jack Lisowski, Mark Williams, Neil Robertson, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump.

LTD Syndicate: Judd Trump, Shaun Murphy, Neil Robertson, Joe Perry, Stuart Bingham, Ding Junhui, Ali Carter.   

Anatole Compton: Mark Selby, Ding Junhui.

Stephen McCabe: Barry Hawkins, Stuart Bingham, Mark Allen, Ding Junhui, Neil Robertson.

TungstenDarts: Judd Trump, Jack Lisowski, Shaun Murphy, Neil Robertson, Stuart Bingham, Ding Junhui, Mark Williams.

Cluster of Reds: Stuart Bingham, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Kyren Wilson, Mark Selby.

Kim Kristensen: Neil Robertson, Judd Trump, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Selby, Ding Junhui, Mark Williams.  

FAM147: Neil Robertson.

The Cue View: Judd Trump.

Andy (APB147): Mark Allen, Stuart Bingham, Neil Robertson.

Rob Francis: Judd Trump, Kyren Wilson, Mark Allen, Ding Junhui, Barry Hawkins, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Williams, Neil Robertson, Stuart Bingham.

Daniel Gavin: Mark Selby

Pete Tscherewik: Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Willliams, Judd Trump, Ding Junhui.

Anthony (antow73): Kyren Wilson, Barry Hawkins, Mark Allen.

Daniela Reich: Mark Williams, David Gilbert, Shaun Murphy, Luca Brecel.  

Alex Abrahams: Stuart Bingham, Barry Hawkins, Ding Junhui, Judd Trump, Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Martin Pearlman: Stephen Maguire, Neil Robertson, Stuart Bingham, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Selby.

Dani M (esnukero): Stuart Bingham, Judd Trump, Ding Junhui, Ronnie O’Sullivan, David Gilbert, Mark Selby.   

Chris Watts: Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy, Mark Allen, Judd Trump

Shaun Hunt: Mark Allen, Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy, Neil Robertson.

Voihelevettisua: Kyren Wilson, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Allen, Barry Hawkins, Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby.

Debbie Dymott: Jack Lisowski, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Ding Junhui, Mark Selby.

Phil Robinson: Neil Robertson, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Selby, Mark Allen, Joe Perry.
Steven Bunn: Stephen Maguire, Ali Carter.

Markus: Judd Trump, Shaun Murphy, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby, Mark Allen, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Ding Junhui.

Andrew Devonshire: Judd Trump, Stuart Bingham, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby, Mark Williams, Barry Hawkins.

Kelvin Platten: Kyren Wilson, Mark Williams, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby, Stuart Bingham.

The final deadline for all picks is Saturday April 20 at 10am before the opening set of first round matches get underway. Please make sure you have your picks in well before this time if you want to check that they are legitimate selections (not been selected 3 previous times).

All the best for the final set of picks.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

LIVE BLOG: Robin Hull Vs Zhou Yuelong Final Session (5-4)

Zhou Yuelong 10-7 Robin Hull - A magnificent 136 total clearance finishes things for Zhou Yuelong. A good finish, especially after the 80 break a couple of frames earlier and important to kill it off after the hear miss the frame before. For Robin Hull it ends in disappointment. He loses his tour card and will have to go to Q School in May if he is to be on tour next year, but his his hints of retirement leave Q School in some doubt. A brave effort though today considering he was not playing his best and on the night Zhou was a worthy winner.

Frame 17 - After the disappointment of not killing this match in the previous frame, Zhou gets in early in the 17th with a good red into the baulk corner and he's now striding round the table hoping that this could be the winning break. Plenty of loose reds to go at so a very good chance.

Frame Hull - After Hull broke down when his cannon went wrong, the poor safety that followed left Zhou in. He cleared to the final red, missing what was virtually match ball brown before it and leaving Hull in to clear. Not even the now slightly awkward brown could halt the clearance and he's still in it trailing 7-9 now.

Hull wins a long safety battle initially but only makes 13 before having to play safe. Poor play from Zhou though leaves reds over both corners and Hull is straight back in with another opportunity. They are all must makes now.

Frame 16 - A tricky miss from Hull early in the 16th leaves Zhou in and he's starting to really find some rhythm now at the right time in this match. If he can get into the bunch nicely in the next couple of shots this could well be the winning moment. He can't get a nice split though and plays safe on 32.

Frame Zhou - The best break of the night by far and at probably the most important time as well. Hull had a chance to get back within one but after missing, Zhou's excellent break of 80 sees him go three ahead now with four to play. A very nice contribution from Zhou with some good recovery pots as he leads 9-6.

Hull leaves a testing red to middle after going into the bunch and after putting it onto the far jaw his break ends on 38 and leaves Zhou in to counter.

Frame 15 - Zhou misses a long pot up into the baulk end at the start of frame 15 which leaves a red on for Hull to get easily in for the first chance of this must win frame. He has to capitalise here if he has much hope of winning this match now.

Frame Zhou - It became a rather bits and pieces frame in the second half of it especially, but after Hull potted the third from last red he left the penultimate red from a looser safety. Zhou potted it from distance and cleared up to the brown to leave Hull needing snookers which he barely had the chance to play for. A scrappy but important frame sees Zhou go two clear at 8-6.

Zhou only pots a couple of reds himself before missing a straightforward black but Hull lets him off almost immediately and leaves the Chinese youngster straight back in.

Frame 14 - For the first time tonight the first chance in a frame goes to Robin Hull after a long range miss from Zhou. He plays a powerful shot through the reds off of his second red but leaves the third red from distance and misses on 14, leaving Zhou with a decent opening.

Frame Zhou - After initially losing position on 33 after an unlucky pack split, a missed long pot from Hull leaves Zhou back nicely in, with the anguish clear on his face. Zhou though was delighted as he added a further 55 to head into the break leading 7-6.

Frame 13 - Both players were warned at the start of this frame for stomping their feet and cue banging but Zhou looks more focused as he thumps in a long red to get a good first opportunity now.

Frame Hull - Zhou pots the green from distance but then misses the brown trying to force round with top spin for the blue. That leaves brown, blue and pink on for Hull who calmly clears the trio to level this match once more. Nothing in this at all at 6-6.

Hull makes 30 before snookering himself on the yellow which is on the baulk cushion. In escaping he pots it cleanly along the rail in a shot that if he played a million more times he probably wouldn't make again. Frame in the balance on the green with Zhou just two ahead.

Hull misses the pink to let Zhou off the hook but he is again unable to clinch the frame, missing a red to middle with four reds remaining and handing the opportunity back to the Finn. Important break now.

Once again Zhou's positional play lets him down as he plays safe on 22 but a couple of safety shots later he throws a bad one in and leaves the cue ball amongst the reds and a chance for Hull to undo the damage of the opening two frames tonight.

Frame 12 - Hull catches his safety off the pack too thick and that allows Zhou the first opening in the twelfth frame and after winning the last he might have settled down here now.

Frame Zhou - Zhou pots the pink initially but goes in-off in the diagonal corner, leaving Hull able to win the frame without a re-spot. The battle continued though and with Hull leaving a cut on to the middle, Zhou pots the pink again and finally clinches the frame to lead 6-5.

Zhou pots the green after Hull leaves it from distance. Hull gets a snooker on the brown though and then pots brown and blue before missing the pink with the rest looking to force a re-spot. They're still battling on the pink now with Hull heading off to the toilet which left Zhou unhappy.

Hull pots the penultimate red well into the middle but then misses the final red along the bottom cushion. That leaves Zhou another chance to clinch the frame but he misses a testing frame ball green this time and the frame is still live here.

Hull misses his second black on just 9, leaving Zhou in for his third chance of the frame but he only adds 24 this time before rattling a pink to middle and allowing Hull back in again. Zhou does not control his anger either this time and gets spoken to by the referee. A long way to go still in this frame.

After losing position very early the first time around, Zhou is back in again now after Hull wobbles a difficult red near the bottom cushion. Zhou misses on 8 this time and restrains himself from smashing his cue on the ground. Hull pots the red but leaves a tough black to continue. He pots it though and will be looking to punish Zhou now.

Frame 11 - A real wide miss from Hull gives Zhou the first chance in the eleventh here. After a couple of loose positional shots he's nicely in now and with plenty of reds to go at here so this is a very good opportunity.

Frame Zhou - Hull breaks down on 49 after missing the final red narrowly into the middle at a tight angle. Both players then miss half chances at the red but Zhou's leaves Hull in a snooker and from that he leaves the red on with the colours on their spots. Zhou then comfortably clears to make it 5-5. Plenty of mileage in this one tonight.

After Zhou breaks down on 36 following a tough black where the cue ball ran away from the reds and leaves him on nothing, he later misses a red and leaves Hull a great chance now. Plenty of reds open at both ends of the table thanks to the safety battle so he could make a few here.

Frame 10 - First chance for Zhou after an excellent long red at dead weight to hold for the black. Certainly a decent chance the way the reds are early on in this first frame of the evening.

Ended up in Sheffield today and have come to the snooker afterwards. Already today there's been a crazy finish with James Cahill beating Andrew Higginson 10-9 and now Robin Hull faces Zhou Yuelong leading 5-4 from this morning.

I caught the last two frames of the morning session and the last was huge for Zhou. After both had missed chances to clear, Hull potted two excellent shots on pink and black to force a re-spot. He had the first chance at the re-spotted black but wobbled it and left it for Zhou. The difference between 6-3 Hull and only 5-4 could be huge but there's still plenty to play for.

Of course if Hull loses this evening he would have to go to Q School in May if he is going to be on the tour for next season so there's a lot on the line here too. He has won the two previous meetings against Zhou though 6-2 and 4-1 and has that slender advantage to start the night.

Monday, 8 April 2019

World Championship Qualifying Preview

For some it will be delightful and for others it will be sheer agony. Some will appear at the Crucible for the umpteenth time, some may appear again after a long gap and some may make their debut.

Others are fighting for their right to play on the World Snooker tour next season. For some it will be a success and jubilation will ensue, while others will realise their worst fears and be resigned to a fate of a trip to Q School and some may choose to retire altogether.

Those are the stories. This is the World Championship Qualifiers.

Starting on Wednesday for eight days, 128 hopefuls will descend on the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, battling for the final 16 spots to join the top 16 just down the road at the Crucible Theatre in under two weeks time. Three best-of-19 matches are what separate them all from a place on snooker's biggest stage.

Last year the lucky 16 were: Ryan Day, Joe Perry, Liam Highfield, Jamie Jones, Matthew Stevens, Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, Jack Lisowski, Ricky Walden, Chris Wakelin, Xiao Guodong, Lu Haotian, Stuart Carrington, Jimmy Robertson, Robert Milkins, Graeme Dott and Stephen Maguire.

Of those Stephen Maguire and Jack Lisowski are now seeded, along with David Gilbert who failed to qualify last year. That means that Anthony McGill, Ali Carter and Marco Fu are the three players to have dropped out of the top 16.

As for the tour survival battle, the two key lists are the provisional two-year rankings, with the top 64 at the end of the year staying on tour. For those not in the first year of a two year card that finish outside of the 64, there is a lifeline as the best eight players not already qualified for next season on the one-year ranking list will be awarded two-year tour cards.

With £10,000 the figure for winning the opening qualifier this week, going up to £15,000 for those that reach the final round and £20,000 for the 16 players that qualify, there's plenty that could change on both of those lists in the next eight days.

For some early statistical analysis on the first round, only seven seeded players (17-80) in last year's qualifiers lost their opening round game (Gary Wilson, Sam Craigie, Cao Yupeng, Mark King, Fergal O'Brien, Anthony Hamilton and Mark Joyce). This figure compares to just 10 in 2017, 10 again in 2016 and 11 in 2015 when the new qualifying format was introduced.

By comparison, seven of the top 16 seeds (17-32) qualified for the Crucible last year. This compares to just five in 2017, an astonishing 12 in 2016 and seven in 2015.

But who will this year's qualifiers be? Here is how the draw looks in each of the 16 qualifying sections:

Qualifying Section 1 

Last 144 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Ryan Day Vs Oliver Lines
Tian Pengfei Vs Soheil Vahedi
Matthew Stevens Vs Thor Chuan Leong
Chris Wakelin Vs Fan Zhengyi

The first qualifying section is led by the unfortunate number 17 who was just unable to do enough to qualify automatically for the second year in a row. Ryan Day's last 64 loss 6-1 to Sam Craigie ended his automatic hopes and looking at this section you would have to say he is going to be up against in all three rounds and need to be playing his best in order to make it through. Starting off against Oliver Lines he is playing someone well capable of giving him trouble, especially if Day has an off day. At 80th on the one-season list Lines has had a fairly average season but he has had his moments and if he can stick with Day early on then the pressure will be on the Welshman firmly. However, Day has made it to the Crucible one way or another for each of the last five seasons and will not let that run end lightly.

Tian Pengfei could also provide a big threat to Day if they meet in the second round. Tian may never have qualified for the Crucible previously, but his season has been very solid, getting him to 81st on the two-year list inside the first year of his new tour card. His highlight in the qualifiers last year while coming close to the Crucible was a comeback win against Yan Bingtao. At 60th on the one-season list his highlights have included a quarter-final at the Gibraltar Open as well as the European Masters earlier in the season. His first round opponent Soheil Vahedi meanwhile is 113th on this season's money list and unless Tian has a very poor day at the office Soheil is unlikely to offer much resistance. In terms of staying on tour, Soheil would need to reach the last 16 at the Crucible, which just shows how far off the pace he is.

Chris Wakelin made his Crucible debut last year and came close to a very famous victory against Judd Trump in the first round. If anything is likely to give him a taste for it then that match may well be it. Many pundits and fans thought he would kick on this season after that, but at 52nd on the one-year list he is around about where he was 12 months ago, so that has not quite happened, even after opening the season with a quarter-final at the Riga Masters. He comes into this off of a last 64 exit in China 6-2 to Gerard Greene so that will not fill him with confidence either and if he is hoping to qualify again this year, he has landed in a very tough section. His first round draw should be easy enough to negotiate as he faces Fan Zhengyi who is 123rd on the one-year list and has only managed a singular win all season, but from there things should certainly heat up for Wakelin.

Matthew Stevens offers plenty of experience when it comes to making the World Championship. The two-time World finalist may have failed to qualify in 2016 and 2017 but was back at the Crucible last year and has had a pretty good season, after making the semi-finals of the International Championship back in November. He may have been short on wins in the second half of the season but experience counts for so much in these qualifiers and he has that in abundance. If Day is to fall short in this section then I think Stevens is certainly going to be close behind him and ready to pounce. His first round draw pits him against Thor Chuan Leong, who while good enough to get the odd win here and there is not at the same level as Stevens if the Welshman produces something near his best. 

Predicted Qualifier: Matthew Stevens

Qualifying Section 2 

Last 144 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Gary Wilson Vs Sanderson Lam
Dominic Dale Vs Chris Totten
Liang Wenbo Vs Basem Eltahhan 
Rory McLeod Vs David Grace

Section two will have a lot to say about the race for tour survival. Starting with Dominic Dale, who needs a victory over Chris Totten in the first qualifying round to promote him into the top 64 on the provisional end-of-season rankings and crucially he would overtake the suspended Jamie Jones in the process. Dale may well have missed a trick in China recently, losing a tight last 64 clash against Craig Steadman, as he may now need to get two wins in the qualifiers to get in the top 64. To fall back on, Dale does have the one-season list where he is seventh out of the top eight NAQ for next season. He still needs a win against Totten to give him security on that list at least, so that will certainly add a lot of pressure on to Dale's shoulders. Totten though is 112th on the one-season list and almost certain to drop off tour at the end of the season, and his best chance of victory over Dale is to hope the favourite succumbs to the pressure that tour survival brings. If Dale could get that all important first win, it may loosen him up and set up a run to qualify for the first time since 2014.

The other player in big need of a win in this section is Rory McLeod. He takes on David Grace knowing that a defeat will be sending him to Q School in May. He is just outside of the top 64 on the two-year list at at 67 and is joint tenth out of those on the one-year list that are not already qualified for next season. Grace himself knows all about this having been in the same situation 12 months ago. He has gone away and earned his tour card back via the Challenge Tour and that has also earned him one of the invites to play here. Make no mistake, this is not a bad draw for McLeod taking on someone that is a good player and has absolutely nothing to lose. Grace qualified for the Crucible in 2017, which was also the last time McLeod qualified, going on to famously beat Judd Trump in the first round. Recently, Grace played as an amateur qualifier in the Gibraltar Open and but for a big comeback from Day he would have been in the quarter-finals. This all looks like bad news for McLeod if Grace gets going here.

Liang Wenbo is one of the main contenders in this section but he will need to put behind him a poor season that has left him languishing at 49 on the one-season list and he will also need to get over the 10-0 loss he suffered in the final qualifying round 12 months ago. Liang is one of the higher ranked players you would look at as being very vulnerable in these qualifiers as his performances all season long have been pretty uninspiring. If it did come down to him and Gary Wilson in the final round the one thing in his favour would be the two wins he has already collected against Wilson this season. His first round opponent Basem Eltahhan has not entered many events in the second half of the season after a poor time on tour and is unlikely to put up much resistance against Liang. How far Liang does go depends on whether he can find some consistency and a bit more form than he has shown this year.

That leaves Gary Wilson as a very big contender in this section. Wilson of course qualified to make his debut two years ago where he met Ronnie O'Sullivan in the first round at the Crucible. At the time he was in danger of dropping off tour but has gone on to climb up into the top 32 and be one of the favourites to qualify. His season has been solid enough, with a last 16 run at the Gibraltar Open going with an early season quarter-final at the World Open. Last season he lost in the first round qualifier against Adam Stefanow, but this year he faces Sanderson Lam who at 133rd on the one-season list has only managed a couple of wins all season and is a certainty to drop off tour unless he produces a miracle. In all, Wilson's heavy scoring is one of his biggest assets over the long format and if he can deliver some of that in the key matches over the next eight days then you would expect him to be in the mix on Judgement Day. 

Predicted Qualifier: Gary Wilson 

Qualifying Section 3 

Last 144 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Robbie Williams Vs Sam Baird
Marco Fu Vs Luo Honghao
Sam Craigie Vs Rhys Clark
Tom Ford Vs Ross Muir

Section three is one of the most competitive sections of all 16 in the qualifiers. Starting with Robbie Williams. He qualified three successive years for the Crucible in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and while he lost in the first round on all of those occasions he would relish the opportunity to get that first Crucible victory. He will come into the qualifiers buoyed by his victory over Judd Trump in China which has left him almost certain of his top 64 place for another year. A first round victory against Sam Baird would confirm that but that is certainly going to be a tough ask. Baird has qualified for the Crucible twice himself back in 2013 and 2016 and has had a decent campaign, highlighted by a quarter-final in Scotland. Baird is actually ten places above Williams on the one-season list, though he has suffered some early exits in the last couple of months. He fell 6-1 in the last 64 of the China Open, as well as 4-0 first round exits at the Gibraltar Open and Welsh Open coming from a 5-4 loss in the last 32 of the German Masters from 4-1 up. This is one of the tighter calls of the week, but some of the form Williams has shown in this format in the past as well as his confidence boosting win over Trump may just edge it.

A tough 18 months for Marco Fu have seen him fall well down the rankings. Starting with eye trouble that saw him miss must of the second half in last season, he has struggled again this season and is 35th on the one-season list. It all means that he could miss events at the Crucible for the first time since 2004. The draw in this section is tough and a first round exit at the China Open 6-3 to Mei Xiwen was further evidence that he may not be up to it. His first round opponent here is Luo Honghao who was beaten by Fu in the UK Championships earlier this season. The second half of his season has been quiet since he reached the quarter-finals of the English Open, leaving him 70th on the one-season list and searching for his first win in 2019. Over the long format you would expect Fu to have enough to beat Luo unless he really regains his early season form. From there though, you can almost guarantee two really tough ties for Fu thereafter.

Tom Ford has played at the Crucible three times before and reached the UK Championship semi-finals earlier on in the season. The second half of the season since then has been more of a struggle for the man who is the seeded player in this section. He is clinging on to 32nd on the one-season list despite his efforts in York. Watching him in Cardiff he looked all at sea as he lost in the last 64, doing so again at the Indian Open soon after, as well as being soundly beaten in the China Open qualifiers. Ross Muir could well provide him a decent threat in the first round especially as he needs a couple of wins in the qualifiers you would think, in order to throw him in the mix to get a new tour card via the one-year list as Muir sits well outside of the top 64. Ford may well find some form and be the player to come through this section, but based on his performances in the last couple of months it is harder to see that happening.

The man in form out of anyone in this section is Sam Craigie. He comes into the qualifiers off the back of a quarter-final run in the China Open that saw him defeat Ryan Day, Ali Carter and Liang Wenbo and doing so in good style as well. He also reached the last 16 of the Indian Open before that and impressed me in Cardiff as well. His heavy scoring should really suit this longer format as he could have a purple patch or two and rattle off a few frames off in a row. In the last two years he has lost in the first qualifying round, letting a big lead slip against Yan Bingtao in 2017 for what would have been a great result and then last year he lost out to Jimmy White. This year feels very different though and in my mind he is a major qualifying contender as he eyes a Crucible debut. His first round opponent this year is a lot lower ranked as well as he takes on Rhys Clark. The Scotsman is almost certain to drop off tour sitting at 131st on the one-season list and choosing to skip a number of events over the course of the season. Barring a drastic improvement from Clark you would expect Craigie to advance into round two and he certainly has the potential to go a lot further this year. 

Predicted Qualifier: Sam Craigie

Qualifying Section 4 

Last 144 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Akani Songsermsawad Vs Chen Zifan
Robert Milkins Vs Luke Simmonds
Duane Jones Vs Kishan Hirani
Anthony McGill Vs Ashley Hugill

One match in this fourth section sticks out as having big influence on the tour survival battle as Duane Jones takes on Kishan Hirani. Jones is currently outside of the top 64 on the two-year list and would need a quarter-final place to climb inside that mark, but his hopes rest a lot higher on the one-season list. His run to the semi-finals of the German Masters has largely helped him inside of the top eight NAQ for next season on the one-year list. He is sixth after a couple of recent results have gone against him and a loss in round one to Kishan Hirani is likely to send him to Q School unless a lot of results go his way thereafter. Hirani has shown a little bit of promise this season, coming close to a famous victory against Mark Williams in Cardiff and defeating Daniel Wells at the China Open qualifiers. With the pressure on Jones,  Hirani may well be able to pounce and leave him in real trouble.

Given his record over the longer format UK Championships, reaching the last 16 in the last two years, Akani Songsermsawad is someone who may have a very good chance of Crucible qualification. At 55th on the one-season list he has had a very quiet time of things since the UK Championships and was memorably fortunate in a last 64 decider in York as well. In Chen Zifan he has a first round opponent who has been very short on wins this season, sitting low down on the one-season list and unlikely to offer much resistance to Akani, especially if the young Thai finds his best form. If he is to qualify for his Crucible debut, you feel that Akani would have to step his game up a notch in what is a section with a couple of experienced players.

One of those is former Crucible quarter-finalist Anthony McGill who is back in the qualifiers after being seeded for the last two years. It has been a pretty poor season for McGill that did pick up slightly in Beijing with a last 16 run at the China Open. Even that has only left him at 62nd on the one-season list, not the sort of inviting form you would want to pick him out as potential qualifier despite his standing on the two-year list and his obvious pedigree. His first round opponent is Ashley Hugill who has had some tough defeats this year in close games, notably in a couple of games against Hossein Vafei. Overall, Hugill is 128th on the one-year list and almost certainly heading to Q School at the end of the season. He could certainly give McGill a tricky game but you would certainly expect the Scot to come through and despite his form this season he would certainly be a heavy favourite to feature on Judgement Day.

The man that could topple him though is Robert Milkins. Milkins has qualified for the Crucible in four of the last six years, making the last 16 on two of those occasions by defeating Neil Robertson. This season he sits at 47th on the money list, reaching the quarter-finals recently in the Gibraltar Open as well as the last 16 in a couple of tournaments besides that with some good victories. His experience when it comes to these qualifiers is great and it is almost a surprise when he is not involved at the Crucible these days. His first round opponent is Q School top-up Luke Simmonds who has shown on a couple of occasions this season that he can be dangerous but over this distance you would simply expect Milkins to be too strong on the day. It is certainly a tricky section to call between Milkins, McGill and Akani though overall. 

Predicted Qualifier: Robert Milkins

Qualifying Section 5 

Last 144 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Graeme Dott Vs Hamza Akbar 
Xu Si Vs Sean O'Sullivan
Stuart Carrington Vs Pang Junxu
Kurt Maflin Vs Mitchell Mann

Section number five features former World Champion Graeme Dott as one of the front runners. Despite a quieter season than he had last season, he has to be the major favourite in this section and is unlikely to fall victim against Hamza Akbar in round one given his vast experience. At 53rd on the one-season list Dott would certainly appear more vulnerable than he has for a number of years suffering a number of early exits, but there are enough signs there with his vast experience that he can still get through to the Crucible again this year. The 2014 Championships were the only time that Dott has not appeared at the Crucible since the turn of the century, so it would be a shock to his system if he does not make it.

He is unlikely to receive his greatest competition from Xu Si, with the Chinese player under big pressure to save his tour place. He is 102nd on the one-season list and likely needs to qualify for the Crucible to get into the top eight NAQ for next season on that list. He has a very winnable round one tie though against Sean O'Sullivan who, apart from a recent win over Joe Perry in Gibraltar, has failed to make much headway again this season at 124th on the one-season list, giving him an even slimmer chance of qualifying of staying on the tour or indeed qualifying for the Crucible.

Stuart Carrington could be the major threat to Dott in this section as a player that has qualified in three of the last four years. Similarly to Robbie Williams in section three, Carrington is yet to register a win at the Crucible itself, coming closest when he missed a big opportunity against Liang Wenbo in 2017. At 33rd he is the highest ranked in this section on the single season money list, aided largely by a run to the semi-finals of the Riga Masters and a Scottish Open quarter-final. His first round draw is a relative unknown in Chinese invite Pang Junxu. Pang did feature in the China Open, losing 6-2 to Alan McManus and over this distance with little experience, he is unlikely to trouble Carrington, even though he has gone quieter in the second half of the season.

Kurt Maflin could also offer a threat primarily to Carrington and then potentially to Dott also. Maflin qualified for the Crucible in 2015, though his first round opponent Mitchell Mann is also a former Crucible qualifier. Mann dropped off the tour last year and came close to regaining his card via the Challenge Tour but ultimately fell one place short. Maflin always seems to be fairly hit and miss which may be why he has not come through the qualifying week more often. For example, he was a Welsh Open quarter-finalist and reached the Gibraltar Open last 16 recently but is still only 58th on the one-season list. His inconsistency means he could be vulnerable to Mann here in round one as someone that has some pedigree over the longer format previously. 

Predicted Qualifier: Graeme Dott

Qualifying Section 6 

Last 144 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Li Hang Vs Niu Zhuang 
Ian Burns Vs Farakh Ajaib 
Ben Woollaston Vs Elliot Slessor
Mike Dunn Vs Nigel Bond

Section six is largely a tale of Crucible inexperience. Nobody in the top half of the section has ever appeared there, including the top 32 seeded Li Hang. Li has missed out narrowly before and this year the draw has certainly given him an amazing chance. His fellow Chinese player Niu Zhuang would need a dramatic improvement to beat heavy scoring Li and indeed to save his tour card, which would require a near miracle. Li was recently a quarter-finalist in India as well as reaching the last 16 last week before narrowly falling short against Jack Lisowski. He may be 45th on the one-season list but only Ben Woollaston at 38th after his quarter-final run in Beijing is higher than Hang in this section. It is his heavy scoring that makes him such a big threat when he is on form and if that delivers he is a strong favourite to at least make Judgement Day.

Ian Burns would also be a Crucible debutant if he qualified and he faces Q School top-up Farakh Ajaib in round one. Burns is a firm favourite to be on the winning side of that one but to go any further he will need to show some of the form that he delivered in beating Mark Allen at the Welsh Open. That was one of his best efforts in a season that leaves him 64th on the one-year list and at second out of the top eight NAQ for next season on that list, victory over Ajaib would basically confirm a new two-year card, as only Crucible qualification would give him any chance on the two-year list and even then he would be unlikely to reach the top 64.

Mike Dunn is looking to qualify for the Crucible for just the second time but after a very slow season which leaves him 92nd on the one-season list, he is actually six places worse off than his first round opponent in Nigel Bond. Dunn is not quite certain of his place on the tour for next season, though a first round defeat to Bond would still require a number of results to go against him if he was to drop out of the 64 and go off to Q School. It will be Q School for certain for Bond if he fails to defeat Dunn as Bond is well outside of the top 64 and currently just short of the top eight NAQ for next season on the one-year list. He may even need two wins to get himself a new two-year tour card on that list. It all shapes up to be a really nervy match between these two with so much on the line for both players, but looking at their seasons overall and the time it has been since either graced the Crucible theatre, qualification seems unlikely.

China Open quarter-finalist Woollaston is the most likely challenger to Li but again, even he has only qualified for the Crucible once back in 2013. The £27,000 he earned last week is nearly half of his season's prize money and without it, he would be ranked nearer Burns than Li on the one-season list. Until Beijing it had been a very average season for Woollaston and not one that would highlight him as a potential Crucible qualifier and despite reaching that stage he still only had to beat one player ranked above him in Lu Haotian and ultimately fell to a player ranked below him too. His first round opponent Elliot Slessor can be dangerous as he shown on occasions before beating Ronnie O'Sullivan twice and his best effort this season is a run to the last 16 in Cardiff. If he is on his game slightly more than in the 6-0 loss he suffered in Beijing, then Woollaston could be drawn into a really close battle and a nervy finish. 

Predicted Qualifier: Li Hang 

Qualifying Section 7 

Last 144 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Daniel Wells Vs Jamie Clarke
Hossein Vafei Vs Zhang Anda
Gerard Greene Vs Aaron Hill
Martin Gould Vs Mostafa Dorgham 

In terms of Crucible experience, section seven is also very short on that. Martin Gould has by far the most though he has only qualified in two of the last four years which seemed slightly surprising for a fairly regular Crucible qualifier. On one of those occasions back in 2016 he was a seed so did not have to come through this gruelling three match format, though the first round draw this year has been very kind to him. Without wanting to disrespect African Championship runner-up Mostafa Dorgham, he is one of the names that you would have wanted to draw and as a relatively unknown quantity, those that like a bet may be rushing to find the best prize on a 10-0 scoreline. In all, Gould has been quiet this season. He may have won the Championship League again but with that carrying no ranking contributions he sits at 81st on the one-season list having chosen to skip a number of events as well as suffering surprise exits, like a 6-0 China Open qualifying loss to Rod Lawler. Gould may get through round one untroubled but that will soon change thereafter.

Gerard Greene is a man in severe need of victories. He has drawn European Under-18 champion Aaron Hill who received a wildcard to play in this and while he is an inexperienced player he also has nothing to lose and nowhere near the amount of pressure on him that Greene does. Defeat to Hill would most likely send Greene to Q School as he is a sitting duck at eighth out of the top eight not already qualified for next season on the one-season list and well outside of the top 64. The promising sign for Greene is that a victory over Chris Wakelin to make the last 32 of the China Open played him inside of the eight and given his experience you would expect him to get over the Hill here. Having not done so since 2010, Crucible qualification may be more unlikely, but that will not be at the front of his mind either.

The two seeds in the top half of this section would both be Crucible debutants, starting with Daniel Wells. The Welshman has had a big breakthrough this season making the Scottish Open semi-finals and he was so close to a first ranking final that week. Since then he has gone slightly quiet and understandably so as it may have taken him a while to get over that loss. Last year he made the final round of qualifying here before losing to Liam Highfield quite comfortably in the end so he will be determined to go a step further this time. His first round opponent is fellow Welshman Jamie Clarke who after a slow start to his first season on the circuit, has started to find his feet. A semi-finalist at the Shoot-Out just after securing his first win on tour at China Open qualifying, Clarke then went on to secure two further victories at the Gibraltar Open, and he looks to have gained some confidence. Now he is under nowhere near the level of pressure of Wells who needs a win ideally to secure his top 64 place for next season. While he may well have the one-year list to fall back on, he would much rather not start again from £0 on the ranking list next season, especially going into the World's sat in 60th.

Meanwhile, Hossein is the player I think will qualify for his Crucible debut. He came close two years ago losing in the final round to Tom Ford. A run to the recent China Open last 16 as well as the Welsh Open semi-finals puts him 29th on the one-season list. In Wales his win against Mark Selby was most impressive and he has shown on several occasions that he knows how to grind frames and matches out as well as being a heavy scorer. The draw in this section is not one with a stand out favourite which could make the job easier for Hossein as there is not that one big name to fear. His first round draw against Zhang Anda though sees him take on someone who has qualified for the Crucible on three occasions. Given the talent he has shown to achieve that, he is one of the tours underachievers, or perhaps is someone that is simply overrated because of the times he has appeared at the World Championship. At 66th on the one-season list he has had an average season and will need to be scoring heavily if he is to get beyond Hossein, who has the potential to power through this section. 

Predicted Qualifier: Hossein Vafei

Qualifying Section 8 

Last 144 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Michael Georgiou Vs Lee Walker
Peter Ebdon Vs Harvey Chandler
Mei Xiwen Vs Florian Nuessle 
Yan Bingtao Vs Lukas Kleckers 

Section eight is where we find former World Champion Peter Ebdon. From his first Crucible appearance in 1992 he qualified every year until 2014 when he was defeated by Robin Hull. Despite that run ending and then failing to qualify again in 2015 he has qualified in two of the last three years, an excellent feat as he nears his 49th birthday. This season has been one of his best for a few years as well, making the final of the Paul Hunter Classic, as well as reaching the last 16 of the German Masters and last week at the China Open he reached the last 32 by dispatching of the favourite for this section - Yan Bingtao - by a 6-2 scoreline. That was a sign that experience over youth is still worth plenty in this game and that could prove true again in this section. Ebdon faces tour rookie Harvey Chandler in round one and his experience may be too much for Chandler over the best-of-19 frames.

Michael Georgiou has had a pretty average season lying 76th on this season's money list as he looks for his Crucible debut. He faces another experienced player in Lee Walker who is still capable of good results and reached the final round of qualifying two years ago beating Matthew Stevens along the way. For me this is one of the closer matches of the first round to call, but given the form that both have shown this season it would be a surprise if either went on to qualify.

Mei Xiwen is a player in the bottom half of this section that could provide a big banana skin for Yan Bingtao in their potential second round tie. Mei has been solid enough this season to reach 59th on the one-season list and he has quietly picked up some decent results along the way. His first round opponent is young unknown player Florian Nuessle who received one of the wildcard invites. Mei's experience should comfortably take him beyond the youngster unless he has a real off day. Mei was one of the closest to giving Neil Robertson a challenge in China, leading him 3-1 before losing 6-3, having beaten Marco Fu in the last 64. Mei is a very good player and is more than capable of being around on Judgement Day.

Finally, Yan Bingtao will be eyeing a second Crucible appearance to go with his 2017 run. He opens up against German Lukas Kleckers who is highly likely to be heading to Q School unless he qualifies for the Crucible at a bare minimum. Kleckers has just not made enough of an impression and really got comfortable on tour at any point and he will be up against it to provide any kind of threat to Yan. The Chinese youngster is 31st on the one-season list which is still good despite it being a lot quieter than his previous two seasons on tour, such is the high bar that he has set for himself at such a young age. It was always likely to happen that he was going to have a rough patch eventually and despite a few last 16 appearances he has failed to impress for much of the season in the same way that he has previously. That does leave the door open in this section for the likes of Mei and a more likely Ebdon. 

Predicted Qualifier: Peter Ebdon

Qualifying Section 9 

Last 144 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Ali Carter Vs Paul Davison
Jimmy White Vs Ross Bulman 
Michael White Vs Andy Hicks 
Yuan Sijun Vs John Astley 

Section nine is a tough call on paper between Ali Carter and Yuan Sijun. The two White's are very unlikely to have any say come Judgement Day. Michael White has had a horrendous season by his standards, reaching just 86th on the one-season list and picking up just £23,000, £8,000 of which came from the Shoot-Out. Form like that makes him much more likely to lose in round one to Q School top-up Andy Hicks who got a couple of wins in India recently to reach the last 16. His experience makes him a big threat to White but neither player is very likely to go on and qualify from this section.

As for Jimmy White, his fans are the ultimate optimists as they hope and pray that he reaches the Crucible for the first time since 2006. The six-time runner-up starts his campaign against youngster Ross Bulman and while he may have far too much for Bulman on the day who could be overwhelmed by the occasion against such a huge legend, the next round against Ali Carter will be a different story. White did beat Carter in the 2017 UK Championships by a comfortable margin but whether he can repeat that over the longer format is another story entirely.

Ali Carter is a two-time World Championship runner-up himself and is 12th on the one-season list after reaching the World Grand Prix final in February. After a poor season last season, he fell just short of automatic qualification though and now has to qualify if he is to keep up his run of being at the Crucible every year since his 2003 debut. He is unlikely to get too much trouble in round one against Paul Davison, who needs at least two wins in the qualifiers in all likelihood (unless a lot of results go his way) if he is to get a new two-year tour card via the one-season list. The quality of Carter should certainly be too much for his first two opponents and there is only one player in this section who you would feel can challenge him on Judgement Day.

Yuan Sijun has had an unbelievable season in just his second season on tour, reaching the height of 21st on the one-season list after a semi-final at the Gibraltar Open and quarter-finals at the World Grand Prix and China Championship. In all he has beaten the likes of Mark Williams, John Higgins, Stephen Maguire, Ding Junhui, Mark Allen and Kyren Wilson at one point or another this season so, albeit over a longer format, there is no reason why he could not defeat Carter in the final round if they both reach that stage. In round one he faces John Astley who would need a real off day from Yuan in order to have a chance. Astley is 89th on the one-season list, neither great or shocking for a player in the first year of a new two-year tour card. For me though, Yuan's quality speaks for itself and he is a dark horse who could not just qualify but then go on to cause an upset at the Crucible. 

Predicted Qualifier: Yuan Sijun

Qualifying Section 10

Last 144 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Ricky Walden Vs Alfie Burden
Eden Sharav Vs David Lilley 
Zhou Yuelong Vs Robin Hull
Liam Highfield Vs Hammad Miah

The tenth section for me is one that looks absolutely wide open. The top 32 seeded player is Ricky Walden but he snuck in there after a run to the last 16 of the China Open last week. In all he is still 46th on this season's money list after another season that has been a real struggle at times. He lost in the first round of the UK Championships notably this season and even though last season told a similar tale, before he went on to qualify and reach the last 16 at the Crucible, this year looks like being a tougher ask. He opens up against Alfie Burden who has beaten Walden in five of their last six meetings overall. Burden reached the final round of the qualifiers last season before losing to Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and has had some decent results this season, making the last 16 of the International Championship and the quarter-finals of the Scottish Open. Not only is he a threat to beat Walden, but with the way the draw sets up he would then be a threat to qualify overall.

Eden Sharav and David Lilley are two players at opposite ends of a tour card battle via the one-year list. Sharav leads the top eight NAQ for next season via that list and even if he loses here to Lilley he is under no threat of eight players overtaking him. Sharav did his damage early in the season, making the Northern Ireland Open semi-finals and picking up some good wins prior to that at the English Open and the International Championship. Things have gone slightly quieter since Belfast but he could still certainly be a threat in this section. Lilley meanwhile is thirteenth out of those NAQ and would certainly need victory over Sharav to earn a tour card via the one-year list. However, he has played himself into this position as a Q School top-up. Highlights have included wins over Tom Ford and Mark King to make the last 32 in Scotland, wins over Ricky Walden and Ben Woollaston to reach the last 32 of the International Championship and plenty of other good singular results. This match shapes up as a very close one if Lilley plays as well as he has at times this season, but whether either player can go on and make their Crucible debuts is a different story.

The bottom half of the section is more likely to house the eventual qualifier. Liam Highfield qualified 12 months ago and gave Mark Allen a good game thereafter. This season though has been tougher going for him as he sits 81st on the one-year list and 61st on the end-of-season list. Defeat to Hammad Miah in the first round could see him fall outside of the 64 if a variety of other results go against him. If that did happen he would have no hope of a tour card via the one-year list and would be going to Q School. Frankly he is far too good for that and should have progressed this season after his run to the Crucible. At 118th on the one-season list though, Highfield would be confident of beating Miah and taking the pressure off of his shoulders.

Zhou Yuelong would be my pick to qualify from this section. He made his debut back in 2017 at the Crucible against Ding Junhui and will be looking for a second appearance. He may only be 41st on the one-season list and have slipped from the top 32 overall, but his run to the quarter-finals of the Gibraltar Open is more like what he can produce. In round one he faces Finland's Robin Hull who could be set to play his final match on tour. Hull qualified for the Crucible in 2014 and 2015 and would need to do so again if he is to have a chance of earning a new tour card via the one-season list. Illnesses over the last year or two have hindered him once more and in the first half of the season he hinted that he may well retire at the end of the season, in the likely event that he does drop off the tour. Hull still showed his teeth in the qualifiers last season by defeating Cao Yupeng who had reached two ranking finals. Whether he can do that again here and then follow it up in the rounds to come, though back in 2017 he did win the previous two meetings against Zhou 6-2 and 4-1. For me though, Zhou will probably prove too strong and the vulnerability of the other seeds in this section makes him the likely qualifier. 

Predicted Qualifier: Zhou Yuelong

Qualifying Section 11

Last 144 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Fergal O'Brien Vs Jackson Page
Mark Davis Vs Rod Lawler 
Alexander Ursenbacher Vs Jordan Brown 
Lu Haotian Vs Ashley Carty

Fergal O'Brien is in the unwanted possession of 65th place on the end-of-season list and knowing that a first round qualifying defeat could lose him his tour place altogether. He is fourth out of the top eight NAQ for next season on the one-season list and a loss would leave him vulnerable to dropping out if other results go against him, given how tight it is. His first round opponent is European Under-21 champion Jackson Page who has nothing to lose here, while O'Brien has literally everything to lose. Page has played in the World Championship qualifiers in both of the last two years, losing 10-9 and 10-7, so he has gotten close to some very good wins. Entering the Paul Hunter Classic this season he reached the last 16 and certainly has a lot of potential and can be very dangerous. O'Brien's experience may well come to be the deciding factor but the pressure is so great that it may counteract that, especially if this goes close.

Alexander Ursenbacher is another player under big pressure. He is likely relying on the one-season list to get a new two-year tour card, sitting fifth of the top eight NAQ for next season. Defeat in round one though would leave him very vulnerable with a big list of players that could pass him. He has reached the final qualifying round here before but that was under much different circumstances as an amateur wildcard two years ago. He faces Jordan Brown in the crucial match and Brown is 109th on the one-season list which will certainly given Ursenbacher plenty of hope. Brown has however picked up a good win this season against Luca Brecel in the International Championship and with all the pressure on Ursenbacher, Brown could do a lot of damage.

English Open runner-up is one of two tournament finalists in this qualifying section and he takes on Rod Lawler in round one. Lawler is third on the one-year list in terms of those NAQ for next season, courtesy of a run to the China Open last 16 that contained a good win over Kyren Wilson. Davis meanwhile may have plenty of experience, but against a player like Lawler that will make little difference. Nor did it make the difference in Beijing as Davis lost his heldover tie against Chang Bingyu 6-4, and other than a quarter-final run in India he has been pretty quiet since that final in Crawley. This could well be a very close contest, especially with Lawler not yet secure on that one-year list. Victory for Davis though would thrust him into contention to qualify.

Lu Haotian will be looking to qualify for the second year in succession, after his run to the last 16 a year ago. In all that was an impressive season, capped by qualifying there but this season has been just as strong. Lu was a semi-finalist early in the season at the China Championship and recently reached the Indian Open final, despite a very quiet time between those two big tournament runs. Add in his run to the last 16 of the China Open and he is one place behind Davis on the one-season list, and just £225 adrift. There is very little between them and it was Lu that defeated Davis in India which is a good omen for Lu if these two do meet in the final round. He faces Ashley Carty in round one here who has shown on brief occasions this year that he can be a dangerous player, but you would still strongly expect Lu to come through and he is certainly my pick to qualify. 

Predicted Qualifier: Lu Haotian 

Qualifying Section 12

Last 144 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Mark Joyce Vs Billy Castle
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh Vs Johnathan Bagley 
Joe O'Connor Vs Joe Swail
Jimmy Robertson Vs Chen Feilong

The big match in this section sees Joe Swail face Joe O'Connor. Swail is ninth out of the top eight on the one-season list NAQ for next season, and with no hope of surviving on the two-year ranking list he has to beat Joe O'Connor to have any chance of being on tour next season. O'Connor of course comes into this after a second win against John Higgins at the China Open, after defeating the Scot to make the Welsh Open semi-finals in February. That was not O'Connor's only big week as he defeated Ryan Day on the way to the last 32 of the UK Championships and overall he will be favourite to defeat Swail. Whether his sheer grit and determination will prove enough when the pressure hits remains to be seen, but it could be another trip to Q School for the Northern Irishman, while O'Connor has a decent outside chance of making his Crucible debut.

After the season Mark Joyce has had you would not have him at the top of your list as someone to qualify. Joyce is a lowly 96th on the one-season list after a shocking season. He faces Billy Castle in round one who is only ten places below him on the one-season list, despite the fact that Joyce is a certainty to be on tour next season and Castle a near certainty to be heading to Q School unless he can qualify for the Crucible. While that may seem unlikely, victory against Joyce is a very reasonable bet against someone in such poor form as Joyce is at the moment in what is likely to be a close match.

The two main contenders for qualification in this section are Jimmy Robertson and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh. Both are ranking event winners this season, though Robertson's was much bigger at the European Masters. It was certainly the week of his life and well deserved from the performances he gave that week in Lommel. In terms of qualification for the Crucible, Robertson has qualified four times overall and three times in the last four years so he has plenty of form for coming through these qualifiers, especially since the format changed for all players to require three wins to get through. Robertson's season may not have quite lit up again since that European Masters victory but he is still a front runner to make it through this section. He opens up against Chen Feilong who, except from a UK Championship victory over Shaun Murphy, has produced little and sits 110th on the one-season list, unlikely to trouble Robertson.

As for Thepchaiya, his ranking event win came at the Shoot-Out and while many downplay that event it was still a showcase of the heavy scoring Thai at his absolute finest. Last season he qualified for his Crucible debut and he will certainly fancy his chances of getting back for a second go, and it would be a big surprise if he is not present on Judgement Day. In round one he takes on the World Seniors number one Bagley. If Un-Nooh is at his heavy scoring best then Bagley will have a tough days work on his hands, because shutting the Thai out is something a lot of players have tried and failed to do. If Bagley does not get into this match early on, he can get used to how comfortable his seat is. If this section does come down to Robertson Vs Un-Nooh I think the player that scores heaviest will come through and that Un-Nooh would just edge it. 

Predicted Qualifier: Thepchaiya Un-Nooh

Qualifying Section 13

Last 144 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Xiao Guodong Vs Jak Jones
Peter Lines Vs Zhang Jiankang 
Michael Holt Vs Brandon Sargeant 
Andrew Higginson Vs James Cahill

A couple of matches in this section have big relevance for the tour battle on the one-year list. The first involves Peter Lines as he faces Zhang Jiankang needing a win there to have any chance of getting a new two-year tour card through the one-year list. He is currently 12th on the NAQ list for next season, so he will also need other results to go his way or indeed to get a win in the second qualifier too. At 85th on the one-year list he has not quite been consistent enough this season, to build on some good wins that he has had. However, Zhang Jiankang is nearly 20 spots lower on the one-year list and the experience of Lines should also play a key factor in this contest. As for his hopes of qualifying, he has only made it to the Crucible once and that was 21 years ago now so there may be a big mental barrier to overcome if Lines is to make it this year.

The other key match sees Q School top-up James Cahill taking on Andrew Higginson. Cahill has done incredibly well given his top-up status to get as close as he is to regaining tour status. He has to beat Andrew Higginson as he currently sits joint 10th on the NAQ for next season via the one-year list. Cahill has beaten the likes of Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy this season, as well as making the last 16 of the Indian Open, to match his best ever ranking event result. If he were to finish tied with McLeod and the final tour card came down to that, Cahill should get the card on count back because of that run in India. In Higginson he faces a tough opponent who, while hit and miss, is very dangerous on his day. If Cahill can handle the pressure though Higginson is someone he is also well capable of defeating. Given some of the quality elsewhere in this section, whoever does win this potentially close tie would have hard work ahead to go on and qualify however, but the way Cahill has gone this season he may finish in style by earning his tour card.

Xiao Guodong is a serious Crucible contender as one of the highest seeds in the qualifying section. However, he just lost in the last 64 of the China Open to Michael Holt who he could meet in the final round. Xiao has been pretty quiet in the second half of the season and unless he scores heavily and consistently he may well be up against it in the later rounds. In round one he faces Jak Jones who, despite a couple of good wins in the UK Championship has been quiet himself and will not get close to Xiao if he is at his best. However, for Xiao this would be his third Crucible appearance in a row and fourth in all if he could make it, so he definitely has the pedigree and form to get there once more.

Holt could be the man to stop him though, having done so in the recent China Open and having plenty of Crucible qualifiers experience. In all he has qualified for the Crucible eight times and will be hoping to end his final round heartbreak after losing the final qualifier in three of the last four years. The year he was successful in 2016, he defeated Neil Robertson to reach the last 16, so he certainly has the form when it comes to the long format and after a reasonable season, Holt is a big contender. He opens up against Challenge Tour graduate Brandon Sargeant who topped the order of merit. He might not have been top of the list of people you would expect to earn a card, but his consistency after winning the first event saw him deliver and he has nothing to lose against Holt. For Holt, the task will be to make his abundance of experience count against someone who has not played at this level before. 

Predicted Qualifier: Michael Holt

Qualifying Section 14 

Last 144 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Mark King Vs Igor Figueiredo 
Lu Ning Vs Allan Taylor 
Scott Donaldson Vs Craig Steadman 
Ken Doherty Vs Andy Lee 

Section 14 is one of the tighter ones to call and could go to one of the most improved players one the tour. 1997 World Champion Ken Doherty brings the experience though has not qualified since reaching the 2014 Championships when he reached the last 16. His campaign last season was good enough to mean that he should be safely in the top 64 despite sitting 65th on the current season list. His highlight of the season may well have come last week as he defeated Mark Williams in the China Open to reach the last 32. In round one this week he takes on Andy Lee who at 122nd on the one-season list has offered little threat to anyone all season and is unlikely to do so again here.

Another experienced player vying for the qualification spot is the top 32 seeded player Mark King. He is 23rd on the one-season list but has not impressed hugely in the second half of the season and a large amount of his points came from reaching the European Masters semi-finals in October. King is in a similar boat to Doherty having played at the Crucible a number of times but not since 2013 when he reached the last 16. In round one this week he faces Brazilian Igor Figueiredo who will be back on tour next season after winning the Americas Championship. Figueiredo did reach the final qualifying round back in 2015 so he is capable of delivering an upset or two over this long format and it may not be an easy match for King at all.

Scott Donaldson will be looking to make his Crucible debut after a successful couple of months on the tour. He comes into this after reaching the semi-finals of the China Open, defeating Joe Perry, David Gilbert and Ricky Walden along the way. Before that he reached the quarter-finals of the Indian Open and the Welsh Open and those performances have promoted him to 17th on this season's money list. In round one here he faces Craig Steadman though he can be very dangerous on his day. In China last week he had a good result of his own by defeating Mark Selby in their heldover last 128 tie and he played well to do so. In the end he fell just short against Liang Wenbo in the last 32. Steadman has pedigree having appeared at the Crucible a few years ago and he can certainly push Donaldson all the way in this one. If Donaldson does come through though it could send him on a run to qualification.

Lu Ning is my choice though as he has been one of the most improved players of the season. In all, he has reached the last 16 of the recent China Open defeating King and Barry Hawkins, the Gibraltar Open semi-finals, the Indian Open quarter-finals, and the last 16 of the Northern Ireland Open and the UK Championship. The consistency of those runs, particularly in the second half of the season have promoted him to 40th on this year's money list and that makes him a sure fire contender for Crucible qualification. I cannot see him having any trouble against Allan Taylor in round one and if he scores as heavily as he is capable and plays as well as he has been, he could be the man to come through this section and qualify for his Crucible debut. 

Predicted Qualifier: Lu Ning

Qualifying Section 15

Last 144 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Anthony Hamilton Vs James Wattana
Matthew Selt Vs Dylan Emery 
Zhao Xintong Vs Adam Lilley 
Noppon Saengkham Vs Adam Stefanow 

Section 15 features a key tour survival match as Anthony Hamilton faces James Wattana for the third time this season. Wattana has won the previous two in International Championship qualifying and China Open qualifying, which does not bode well for Hamilton who needs a victory to make sure he stays inside the top 64 at the end of the season. At 42nd on this season's money list he has done sensationally well to stay in the top 64 after a season last season that was hampered by back problems. His runs to the semi-finals of the Indian Open and European Masters have been the big players in that cause but Wattana has been a bogey player for him this season and that will be a huge worry for him. He would be safe for a new tour card via the one-season list but that's very different to staying in the top 64. Wattana also comes into this having beaten Ding Junhui in the China Open final stages. In terms of qualifcation, Hamilton has not made the Crucible since 2008 and Wattana last qualified in 2006 so neither is terribly likely to return this season you would think.

As Indian Open champion, someone like Matthew Selt has a much better chance and has qualified twice previously in 2013 and 2015. Up to the Indian Open it had been a fairly average season for Selt but in those amazing few days everything changed for him and he will now be hoping to carry on taking that forward, despite the two early exits he has suffered since then. Young Dylan Emery could cause issues for him in round one but over this distance, Selt should have the experience to come through in the end and if he does so, you would expect Selt to be involved when we reach Judgement Day.

Noppon Saengkham is the seeded contender here having risen into the top 32 this season. That was largely aided by early season runs at the World Open and the English Open, and even though the latter part of this season has not quite matched that he is a major contender here. He failed to qualify for the China Open, and lost out early in Gibraltar, though he did make a 147 in the last 32 of the Welsh Open as well as beating John Higgins at the World Grand Prix. Noppon made his Crucible debut in 2017 and with his heavy scoring ability he has a great chance of getting back again. His first round opponent Adam Stefanow may have beaten Gary Wilson at this stage 12 months ago, but besides a good win against Shaun Murphy in China Open qualifying recently, it has been a very quiet season for him.

The big competition for Noppon comes in the shape of Zhao Xintong. Ironically, the pair have earned the exact same amount of ranking points this season. Zhao's season has been highlighted by a semi-final run at the China Championship as well as a run to the quarter-finals of the Welsh Open recently. His failure to qualify for the China open is just another way he has matched Noppon so both have had plenty of preparation time for these qualifiers. The one key difference is that Zhao would be a Crucible debutant, though with Noppon only appearing once that may not make any difference, particularly as the pair are set to meet at the second round stage. His first round opponent Adam Lilley is the Oceanic invitation and another player that I know very little about. Again that is the sort of match that those who like a bet will be eyeing up odds on the 10-0 scoreline here. Zhao's heavy scoring makes him incredibly dangerous over a long format as he can reel frames off in no time, to take matches away from players and even though his game can still be a bit loose, the improvements he has made make him a clear contender to qualify. 

Predicted Qualifier: Zhao Xintong

Qualifying Section 16

Last 144 draw: (Picks in bold) 

Alan McManus Vs Ng On Yee
Martin O'Donnell Vs Adam Duffy
Zhang Yong Vs Reanne Evans 
Joe Perry Vs Simon Lichtenberg 

The 16th and final qualifying section is another really tough one to call. It is also the section that features both of the two invites from the women's tour. Reanne Evans will face Zhang Yong and the track record of her compared to Ng On Yee makes her the more likely to get a famous win. That was something she did two years ago by defeating Robin Hull in the first qualifying round, a defeat which sent Hull outside of the top 64. Now she could knock Zhang Yong off the tour completely. He would need a miracle to reach the top 64 and after a poor season he is 100th on the season list and would probably need to qualify or at least win two games and pray for results to go his way, in order to get a new tour card via the one-year list. With all the pressure on Zhang, who has lost to Q School top-ups Adam Duffy and Kuldesh Johal, then Evans certainly has a chance to cause the upset.

Ng On Yee has been handed a much harder draw against recent China Open quarter-finalist Alan McManus. That run guaranteed McManus' tour place for next season in the top 64 and he can now concentrate on making it back to the Crucible, something where his experience can certainly pay off. With the pressure off and after recording some fine results last week, it is very hard to see McManus losing to Ng On Yee and much easier to see him making the Crucible for the first time since he made the semi-finals in 2016. Between 2013 and 2016 he had a run of qualifying on four successive occasions, with a quarter-final in 2014 another highlight. Not only does he have an incredible match play brain, but he has all the experience you need to go far in these qualifiers and it would be no surprise at all to see him involved on Judgement Day once again.

His competition in round two would come from either Martin O'Donnell or Adam Duffy. Sheffield's Duffy is competing as a Q School top-up and would be looking for his Crucible debut having reached the final round last year and a few years ago, as he aims to qualify for his home event in the process. However, in Martin O'Donnell he faces someone who has improved dramatically this season. With quarter-final runs at the UK Championship, International Championship and the China Championship as well as reaching the last 16 in Northern Ireland he comes into this 21st on the one-season list and far away from the player who survived Q School by the skin of his teeth in 2017. Now he is certainly a major contender to make his Crucible debut, especially if you look at the calibre of players he has overcome in his major runs this season. Even though he has gone quiet in the last two or three months, he may be saving his best until the final event of the season.

The number one contender in this section though of course is world number 18 Joe Perry. Last season, Perry qualified easily and then dispatched of defending champion Mark Selby in the first round. On only three occasions since 2002 has Perry failed to qualify, with on of those producing the famous head in hands picture against Akani back in 2017 as the Thai's unorthodox style stopped him in his tracks. This season he has been a ranking finalist again at the European Masters and is 14th on this season's money list but was just unable to do enough to make it to the Crucible automatically. Facing Germany's Simon Lichtenberg in round one, who sits 126th on this season's money list, before taking on the winner of Zhang and Evans, it would be a massive shock if he failed to appear on Judgement Day. Given his vast experience and unquestionable quality, it is going to take a seriously big performance from someone in this section to deny him a Crucible place. 

Predicted Qualifier: Joe Perry

Every single one of these sections will be competitive and while I have picked out my 16 qualifiers, there are so many more that have the potential to get through.

Two matches in each session throughout the qualifiers will be shown live on Eurosport Player, while the popular Judgement Day coverage of the final round next Tuesday and Wednesday will be streamed live on Facebook and YouTube with Neal Foulds and Rob Walker fronting it once again.