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PREVIEW: 2019 World Snooker Championship Qualifying

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It is the moment where you feel the magic starting to tingle. It is the point of the snooker season where everyone gets more than excited. We are nearly at the zenith of the season. Ladies and gentlemen, we have the start of World Snooker Championship – the qualifying stages!

This is when many fans, purists and snooker bloggers like me get rather hot under the collar before more mainstream snooker fans turn up for the main event. Now that the likes of Stephen Maguire, Jack Lisowski and David Gilbert secured their Crucible sport, the rest have to do it the hard way. The rest of the tour have to go through the gauntlet of three qualifying matches to reach the World Championships. Along with a few amateurs to go with it.

The Qualifying Format Debate

This brought back the debate over the qualifying format. Before 2015, the system was tiered, meaning the number of matches a competitor plays depends on your ranking. Since then, Barry Hearn demolished all of that with his ‘even-playing field’ philosophy where everyone plays three matches to reach the Crucible, regardless of one’s ranking.

Indeed, the current way is less predictable and more exciting. Its brutality epitomises the World Championship’s prestige and also creates headlines, which translates to more money in the pot. You would never see Reanne Evans beating Robin 10-8 under the old format in 2017. On the other hand, it isn’t as fair as the tiered system. Considering how little rankings seem to mean a majority of the season, it would be rather fitting if players gain an advantage for their higher position for once. Players of a similar ranking will play each other, reducing the possibility of ‘gifts.’ Gifts, in this context, mean incredibly easy opposition compared to other veterans, which may mean the difference between survival and relegation.

I personally think it is unfair to the higher-ranked players. Despite qualifying being seeded, there is barely a significant advantage. It would be nice to be rewarded for their season’s work. But then again, I was stupid enough to do a second marathon, so I can’t complain too much. You can read an old discussion of mine on whether a tiered or a flat system is better or more fair by clicking here.

Snooker Survival

I touched upon that a win here is of vital importance to everyone. Not only because there is £10,000 for winning the first match and it being one step closer to the Theatre of Dreams. For some, a win will keep him on tour for another year or two. For another, it is a year in the amateur wilderness or possible retirement.

Those who’s under threat range from the experienced (Rory McLeod, Nigel Bond, Joe Swail) to the rookies (Lukas Kleckers, Billy Joe Castle, Chris Totten). More permutations come into play if players try to qualify via reaching the Top 64 or via the one-year ranking.

A number of players had talk about hanging up their cue if they drop off the tour. Robin Hull, Dominic Dale and Nigel Bond spring to mind. For more information from someone who knows anything and everything about this, please click here. We all know @prosnookerblog knows his stuff. We also have Judgement Day, which is such an intriguing time for us anoraks. Also, the below:

Anyways, DRAW PLEASE.

DRAW

Group 1

Group 1

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

Despite being the top seed of this qualifying draw, Ryan didn’t gain a significant advantage for being so. Oliver Lines is a tough opponent who is much better than his ranking suggests. Hopefully, he has got his cue back to be at his best! The winner will likely be against Tian Pengei, who is an enigma. I never know which Tian will turn up next, but it does slightly surprise me that he hasn’t reached the Crucible next.

On the other side, we have more players who participated in the Crucible last year. Matthew Stevens and Chris Wakelin are more likely to do battle here and both have been steady eddies this season. Stevens had more success, with a semi-final appearance at the International Championship being his main highlight. Stevens always has a good record with long matches but then again, so has Day. I think I will back Day on this one, purely because he is experienced in successfully qualifying via this format.

Winner: Ryan Day vs. Matthew Stevens

Group 2

Gary Wilson vs. Sanderson Lam
Dominic Dale vs. Chris Totten
Liang Wenbo vs. Basem Eltahhan
Rory McLeod vs. David Grace (a)

Neither of these had spectacular seasons, so this will be a perfect opportunity to end it on a good note. All the seeded players should have no problems here, though the match to watch is between McLeod and Grace. Grace has already qualified for next season via the Challenge Tour and will go into this match with nothing to lose. McLeod, on the other hand, has everything to lose. Currently outside of the Top 64 and the eight available place in the one-year ranking list, McLeod’s professional status is in danger.

Also in the same position is Dominic Dale, who talked about retirement earlier this season. Liang Wenbo is having a horror show and it’s amazing how far he’s fallen, considering he won his first ranking title two seasons ago. So far, I can only see one winner here. Gary Wilson. He suffered a scare last year when he lost 10-8 to Adam Stefanow but this time he’s been far more consistent. Also, Liang 10-0 whitewash in last year’s final qualifying round to Jamie Jones still sticks out for me.

Winner: Gary Wilson vs. Liang Wenbo

Group 3


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

If we are talking of a ‘Group of Death,’ this would be it. Either that or Group 14. Williams, Baird, Fu and Ford reached the Crucible stages multiple times and it’s a shame to see them get knocked out. However, snooker business is snooker business. The Williams-Baird tie is probably the most even match-up you are likely to find here. Luo is having a decent season and could very well produce a shock against Fu. Fu hasn’t regained his form since his eye operation last year. Here is a scary stat: if Fu doesn’t qualify for the Crucible this season, it would be the first time since 2004 he won’t feature in the World Championships. THAT’S 15 YEARS. That is incredible.

It looks like Craigie and Ford are likely to win their first-round matches so it now depends who wins between them. Craigie is coming into Sheffield at the right time. He reached his first ranking quarter-final in the China Open, beating Day, Liang and Ali Carter. However, he hasn’t one a World Championship qualifying match yet, which should be an advantage to Ford. Despite a UK Championship semi-final appearance, Ford hasn’t done much.

This is a perfect opportunity for Craigie to become a Crucible debutant. It is also a perfect opportunity for Fu to boost his confidence. I will take a risk and go with Craigie for this one. This is one unpredictable group.

Winner: Marco Fu vs. Sam Craigie

Group 4


Akani Songsermsawad vs. Chen Zifan
Robert Milkins vs. Luke Simmonds (a)
Duane Jones vs. Kishan Hirani
Anthony McGill vs. Ashley Hugill

Assuming all the seeded players move to the next round, this is an interesting group. Both Sunny Akani and Rob Milkins are having lukewarm seasons. If they do meet, this will be a very interesting match as they are two completely different players. Akani is rigid and methodical while Milkins is aggressive and error-prone. Akani may be the fan favourite, but Milkins has the experience. He has qualified for the World Championship four times in the past six seasons.

McGill’s season is a horror show. He hasn’t made one single quarter-final this season and I do not know why. Thankfully for him, his World Championship record is impeccable. He’s been at the Crucible every year since 2015. However, this is his first since 2017 where he needed to qualify to get there. He will likely be against Duane Jones, who made his breakthrough in the German Masters by reaching the semi-finals.

I believe McGill will be beaten by the victor between Akani and Milkins but who do I pick? Despite my heart telling me to pick Akani, I will go with my head and say Milkins will beat both of them.

Winner: Robert Milkins vs. Anthony McGill

Group 5


Graeme Dott vs. Hamza Akbar
Xu Si vs. Sean O’Sullivan
Stuart Carrington vs. Pang Junxu (a)
Kurt Maflin vs. Mitchell Mann

A little birdie told me that Graeme Dott has failed to qualify for the World Crucible just once since 1997. He has a kind draw to say the least in Hamza Akbar and potentially Sean O’Sullivan. After winning ‘Rookie of the Year’ last season, Xu Si has failed to live up to expectations, which should pave a way for Judgement Day.

Mann’s campaign last year ended horribly as he was forced to end the World Championship qualifying match early against Day due to illness. He has a decent chance against Kurt Maflin, who is very attacking but is vulnerable to a few unforced errors too many. We know that Stuart Carrington is a very capable player, especially in this format. He has qualified three times in the past four years. Despite this record, I will root for Dott to stake his claim at the Crucible once again.

Winner: Graeme Dott vs. Stuart Carrington

Group 6


Li Hang vs. Niu Zhuang
Ian Burns vs. Farakh Ajaib (a)
Ben Woollaston vs. Elliot Slessor
Mike Dunn vs. Nigel Bond

Li Hang (No. 28) is currently the highest ranked player to never qualify for the World Championship at the moment. It’s a similar story like Graeme Dott, who I just mentioned. I cannot imagine Li having too many problems until he reaches the final round. He has come close on a number of occasions and lost in the deciding frame four times in the past five years on his quest to the Crucible. Could this finally be his moment?

Woollaston has been very quiet in recent seasons. His quarter-final appearance in the China Open should boost his confidence up. But he has a very tricky tie in Elliot Slessor, who is unable to repeat his successes the season before. The match between Dunn and Bond should be a nervy one, as both are in the fight to stay on the tour. They faced each other twice in this format, the latest meeting between 2009, which Bond winning both.

I believe we have another debutant on our hands in Li Hang, who I think will beat Elliot Slessor in the final round.

Winner: Li Hang vs. Elliot Slessor

Group 7


Daniel Wells vs. Jamie Clarke
Hossein Vafaei vs. Zhang Anda
Gerard Greene vs. Aaron Hill (a)
Martin Gould vs. Mostafa Dorgham (a)

Jamie Clarke will come with a lot of self-esteem after his wins in the last few tournaments. His opponent will be watching his back. Though Wells is in the Top 64, a slight slip and a number of wrong results could put him in the firing line, so he needs to be careful. Vafaei has been banging on the door to the Crucible for a while now. He reached the final qualifying round twice in the last two years and is desperate to becoming the first Iranian to be at the World Championships. He faces Zhang Anda, who reached that stage three times already, so he knows how much it will take to get there.

Remember earlier I talked about ‘gifts.’ You have to feel you would rather give Gould £10,000 on a silver platter. The 2018 African runner-up hasn’t made a significant impact in any major amateur event that I could think of. It isn’t such a gimmie for Gerard Greene, enough though Hill is inexperienced, but good to see the European Under-18 Champion play.

For the final, Vafaei and Gould have beaten each other once. But Gould has qualified every year bar one since 2009. However, based on form, I will go for Vafaei.

Winner: Hossein Vafaei vs. Martin Gould

Group 8


Michael Georgiou vs. Lee Walker
Peter Ebdon vs. Harvey Chandler
Mei Xiwen vs. Florian Nüssle (a)
Yan Bingtao vs. Lukas Kleckers

Moving swiftly onto the seeds on this one, there is not much to write about here. Weirdly, neither seeded player has performed well this season, which is a little bit of a shame. Despite this, I cannot see any of their opponent threatening either. Lee Walker is the biggest threat. But even if he does get past Georgiou, I don’t think he will beat Ebdon. Peter Ebdon still have something left in the tank, despite early retirement thoughts.

Yan Bingtao seemed to suffer from ‘third season syndrome,’ where players underperform in their, well, third season after they reached the Top 64. He is underachieving this season but has a very kind draw in German Kleckers and fellow compatriot Mei. When it comes to the final round, I don’t think he will have it in him to defeat the 2018 Paul Hunter Classic finalist.

Winner: Peter Ebdon vs. Yan Bingtao

Group 9


Allister Carter vs. Paul Davison
Jimmy White vs. Ross Bulman (a)
Michael White vs. Andy Hicks (a)
Yuan Sijun vs. John Astley

Allister Carter had a brilliant run in the last World Championships by beating Graeme Dott and Ronnie O’Sullivan. It was the first time he beat the Rocket in his career but most will remember the match for the shoulder barge, which was portrayed as the most blood-curdling thing anyone had ever seen. Welcome to Twitter. His likely opponent after his first round match is likely to be against the Whirlwind. It would be a fairytale to see Jimmy White at the Crucible again, but I think that is unlikely to happen.

Anyway, onto another White. Michael White has been on a downward spiral since he exited the 2016 World Championships against Sam Baird. He spoke openly about his depression and sadly, hasn’t been the same player since. Hicks is a very tough opponent and has been at the Crucible before. In the other match, Yuan will be happy to draw Astley. Both Carter and Yuan deserve to be in the Crucible, but that is not how the draw works, unfortunately. So if I had to choose one, it has to be Carter.

Winner: Allister Carter vs. Yuan Sijun

Group 10


Ricky Walden vs. Alfie Burden
Eden Sharav vs. David Lilley (a)
Zhou Yuelong vs. Robin Hull
Liam Highfield vs. Hammad Miah

This is an interesting one as all eight players have the potential to win this group. Ricky Walden has a close contest with Alfie Burden and to be honest, either player will have a tricky match again Sharav and Lilley. On the other side of the draw, we will need to wait to see what kind of Robin Hull will turn up. Hull’s health problems are well documented and said that he will possibly retire at the end of this season. Zhou Yuelong’s career has stalled somewhat to the extent that he is now the sixth best Chinese player.

Even though, Zhou has been consistent in beating those below his ranking. The true test is whether he can progress to the Crucible. If Walden is in his way, I believe that is highly unlikely.

Winner: Ricky Walden vs. Zhou Yuelong

Group 11


Fergal O’Brien vs. Jackson Page (a)
Mark Davis vs. Rod Lawler
Alexander Ursenbacher vs. Jordan Brown
Lyu Haotian vs. Ashley Carty

This is where the shocks will come into play. Fergal O’Brien is a surprise one whose professional status is under threat. Jackson Page looks to put a dent in his chances. The hot prospect will become a professional next season after winning the U21 European Championships. He is very fiery and will play without but is prone to a number of unforced errors. Davis is in for the long haul against Rod Lawler, who perked up during the China Open.

It’s been a while since Ursenbacher got to the final qualifying stages. It also seems a while since Lyu reached the Last 16 of last year’s World Championship. Since then, Lyu has flourished. Despite a number of first-round losses, Lyu went deep into a few events to catapult him into the Top 32. He’s my vote to win this group.

Winner: Mark Davis vs. Lyu Haotian

Group 12


Mark Joyce vs. Billy Joe Castle
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh vs. Jonathan Bagley (a)
Joe O’Connor vs. Joe Swail
Jimmy Robertson vs. Chen Feilong

The match between Joe O’Connor is a match to look forward to. We know how much pedigree Joe Swail has at the Crucible and long formats are in his alley. Joe O’Connor is a late developer who reached the Welsh Open semi-finals. Looking elsewhere in the draw, it seems likley to me that Jimmy Robertson and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh will meet in the final round.

But who will win there. Well, Jimmy won all three of their meetings, but two of them ended up being deciders. Both visited the Crucible before, but the European Masters champion has qualified three times in the past four years. I really want to see Un-Nooh draw with O’Sullivan so that the Rocket will win 10-9 after just 30 minutes of play. I will go with that.

Winner: Thepchaiya Un-Nooh vs. Jimmy Robertson

Group 13


Xiao Guodong vs. Jak Jones
Peter Lines vs. Michael Judge (a)
Michael Holt vs. Brandon Sargeant (a)
Andrew Higginson vs. James Cahill (a)

There was a last-minute change. Zhang Jiankang was replaced by Michael Judge, due to an apparent illness. Because of this, Lines actually has a tougher opponent! I still think Lines will come through and face Xiao next. Xiao has stabilised since his poor season a few years back.

Michael Holt is another person who has quietened down. Along with Higginson too. If they do meet, Holt should win the tie on paper. Holt has won all five of his meetings with Higginson. I do think Holt has what it takes to win this group. He hasn’t had a good season, but this will perk him up!

Winner: Xiao Guodong vs. Michael Holt

Group 14


Mark King vs. Igor Figueiredo (a)
Lu Ning vs. Allan Taylor
Scott Donaldson vs. Craig Steadman
Ken Doherty vs. Andy Lee

If Group 3 isn’t the ‘Group of Death,’ than this is it. Neither of these players qualified for the Crucible last year, so they will definitely be gunning for this. King was a surprise casualty when he lost to Gerard Green last year, but he shouldn’t have too much trouble with his Brazilian opponent. Lu Ning is one of the biggest surprises of the season reaching up to No. 72 in his first of his two-year card. He’ll want to make his second year as easy as possible and there are SO MANY raaaaaankking points up for grabs here.

Donaldson is another slight surprise too. But boy, has he made a statement. Yes, he did lose 10-1 to Jack Lisowski. But he still reached the semi-finals in the recent China Open and this comes after years of grinding up the ranking table. Doherty has a brilliant chance of reaching the Top 64 again as he is against a player who won just three matches this season, two of those victories were against amateurs. Ken should sail through that.

Out of any group, I am most likely to be wrong with this one. But I will go for the underdog and go for Donaldson. I am excited about this one.

Winner: Lu Ning vs. Scott Donaldson

Group 15


Anthony Hamilton vs. James Wattana
Matthew Selt vs. Dylan Emery (a)
Zhao Xintong vs. Adam Lilley (a)
Noppon Saengkham vs. Adam Stefanow

If you were to give me this list six months ago, I would’ve said Noppon Saengkham without hesitation. However, with Stefanow winning some matches, Selt winning his first ranking title and Hamilton reaching the semis in the Indian Open this become interesting. This is as well as seeing an exciting talent in Welsh Dylan Emery and even more exciting talent Zhao Xintong begging to be in the spotlight.

Since winning the Indian Open, Selt hasn’t built up after his sole ranking victory. Anthony Hamilton is another player who is not only struggling for form, but is also trying to stay on tour. Meanwhile, Zhao is having a phenomenal season. After qualifying via Q School last year, he is already in the Top 64. Playing against an amateur will warm him up nicely. I will plump him to making his debut. Please let him be against Robertson!

Winner: Anthony Hamilton vs. Zhao Xintong

Group 16


Alan McManus vs. Ng On-yee (af)
Martin O’Donnell vs. Adam Duffy (a)
Zhang Yong vs. Reanne Evans (af)
Joe Perry vs. Simon Lichtenberg

It’s odd to see two female players ranked in the same group, but this makes things convenient for me! Both On-yee and Evans participated in the World Championship qualifiers three times each but have chalked up one win between them. On-yee is having the hardest time of the two, losing 10-1 three times in a row. Her time will not get easier. The current World Championship will face Alan McManus. Evans meanwhile, will be hoping to go one step further against Zhang Yong. Don’t forget, she beat Robin Hull 10-8 in 2017.

After Joe Perry has finished ranting on about the qualification system (which I agree with), he will realise that he has a good draw. Simon Lichtenberg has won two matches this season. He is pretty strong and the European Masters runners-up will want to return to the Crucible again, especially after knocking out the defending champion Mark Selby last year.

Winner: Alan McManus vs. Joe Perry

The World Championship Qualifying round will take place at the the English Institute of Sport, Sheffield between Wednesday 10th April – Wednesday 17th April.

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