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The top 16 in the world rankings are joined by 16 qualifiers. The matches are contested over the best of 19 frames in the first round and get even longer as the tournament progresses, culminating in a race to 18 in the final. It is more of a marathon than a sprint, though, in comparison to most of the regular events during the season, which are only played over the best of seven or 11 frames.
Another notable difference for new players is the venue. The intimacy of Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre only allows for two tables to be in use at any one time (reduced to one from the semi-finals onwards). There are usually several matches going on at once in the early rounds of other competitions, and the history and atmosphere of the surroundings can sometimes intimidate the less experienced cue men just as much as inspire them.
Seven of the top 16 players in this year’s tournament have previously lifted the World Championship trophy. Ronnie O’Sullivan is the most successful player of the current crop with five titles, although he still trails all-time record holder Stephen Hendry by two and has not won since 2013.
John Higgins is just behind O’Sullivan on four titles, while Williams and Mark Selby are both three-time champions. Stuart Bingham, Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy have also tasted success on the Crucible baize. The results of the past five finals are shown below:
2018: Mark Williams 18-16 John Higgins
2017: Mark Selby 18-15 John Higgins
2016: Mark Selby 18-14 Ding Junhui
2015: Stuart Bingham 18-15 Shaun Murphy
2014: Mark Selby 18-14 Ronnie O’Sullivan
Explore previous snooker betting tips to see how the fortunes of these champions have fluctuated in recent times.
It has been a disappointing season for several of the biggest names in the sport, including Selby, Williams, Murphy and Ding Junhui. O’Sullivan has shone the brightest, winning a record 19th Triple Crown title at the UK Championship, while Judd Trump, Neil Robertson and Mark Allen have also picked up major titles. Here’s a rundown of the leading contenders and their form this season.
- Mark Williams - The Welshman promised to enjoy being world champion when he edged out Higgins last year and has stayed true to his word, saying at one point during the season that he was ‘not bothered’ about snooker. His results this season have reflected his relaxed attitude - when he has not skipped tournaments - but he should not be ruled out if he can get his mindset right.
- Ronnie O’Sullivan - Almost 30 years into his career, O’Sullivan has dominated the season and regained the No.1 ranking from Selby after his win over Robertson at the Tour Championship in March. He also breezed to the UK Championship title in December and won the Players Championship, making him the firm favourite for glory in Sheffield.
- Mark Selby - He remains No.2 in the world, for now, but Selby has largely been misfiring since he won the China Championship at the start of the season. For a player who is normally so hard to beat, the ‘Jester from Leicester’ has suffered a number of uncharacteristically early losses, including a defeat in qualifying at the most recent ranking event in China. He looks short on confidence and will be desperate to avoid a repeat of last year’s first-round exit at the World Championship.
- Neil Robertson - The Australian, who was world champion back in 2010, has returned to his best form during the latter part of the season. He has reached the final of the last four ranking tournaments he has played, losing to O’Sullivan at the Players Championship and the Tour Championship but winning in Wales and China. There may not be a more confident player in Sheffield.
- John Higgins - The veteran Scot described his form as ‘garbage’ when he went out of the UK Championship in December and hinted that his career could be coming to an end. His performances have barely picked up since then but The Crucible does usually bring out the best in Higgins and he has narrowly lost in the final for the last two years.
- Mark Allen - Allen was scintillating before Christmas, winning the International Championship and the Scottish Open, while it took a vintage O’Sullivan display to stop him in the final of the UK Championship. He has been less impressive since the turn of the year but it feels like it should be his time to buck a relatively modest Crucible record and go deep at the World Championship.
- Judd Trump - Could this be the year that Trump comes of age and wins his first world title? The highlight of the 29-year-old’s campaign has been a 10-4 demolition of O’Sullivan in the final of The Masters, but he has also been consistent and snared titles at both the Northern Ireland Open and The World Grand Prix. Trump has not been to a world final since 2011 but seems to have found a steel to go with his style and certainly has the all-round game now to go all the way.
- Kyren Wilson - Wilson has had a steady rather than special year, although he did win the German Masters at the start of February. Most recently, he lost to Rod Lawler in the second round of the China Open. He has always enjoyed playing at The Crucible, making the quarter-finals or better in each of the past three seasons.
The top 16 slot into pre-determined positions in the draw based on their rankings, but it is the bottom half which contains most of the in-form players. O’Sullivan and Trump are in the same quarter, along with the dangerous Ding, while Allen and three-time champion Selby are also in the lower half. Only one of them can reach the final and they will have to face several high-class opponents just to make it.
For O’Sullivan, it is a chance to take another step towards Hendry’s record and he is the understandable favourite to win the tournament at odds of around 9/4. However, Trump is one of the few players who does not look the least bit daunted when facing ‘The Rocket’ and his army of fans, and is a better price at around 5/1.
For the best value, though, it might be wiser to look at the top half of the draw. Ninth seed Barry Hawkins, who has reached the semi-finals in five of the last six years, may be the one to watch in the top quarter, which also includes Wilson and the out-of-form Williams, while Robertson also seems to have a favourable draw in the next section. The Australian may have to face the struggling Shaun Murphy in round two, followed by Higgins or Bingham, and on current form he should be too strong for anyone in his half.
Top Betting Tip
The qualifiers, who have had to come through three matches, will all be sharp and full of belief so there could be plenty of shocks in the first round. However, it is likely to be the players who have been flying high this season and who have done it all before at The Crucible who are still standing come the final weekend. It may well be O’Sullivan or Trump from the bottom half, but the man with both form and the draw on his side is Robertson. The Australian has the break-building power to surge past anyone, particularly those in his half of the draw, and a flutter at around 6/1 around looks very appealing.