The gap between some of the top 16 and the qualifiers for the Crucible has narrowed in the modern era.

The gap between some of the top 16 and the qualifiers for the Crucible has narrowed in the modern era. I took a look back at the performance of qualifiers at the Crucible in the last five years and went back and looked at five year periods one and two decades ago to see if that assertion was backed up by results:

20-25 years ago (1991-96) the annual average was 3 of 16 qualifiers beating their seed in the first round
10-15 years ago (2001 to 2006) that had risen to an average of 5 out 16 per year
In the last five years (2011 to 2016) that had risen again to an average of 7 of top 16 and 2016 indeed saw seven seeds lose in the first round.

As this year 15 of the 16 seeds are priced up as favourites to win their first round matches with the average first round price of the 16 qualifiers 9/2, I wondered if there might be an opportunity to take advantage of the trend towards more upsets this year too.

Various reasons are suggested for the increased vulnerability of the seeds at the Crucible in the first round.

First would be the change instituted in the qualifying format for the event two years ago where all players outside the top16 have to play three nineteen frame matches to qualify (Previously seeds17-32 were placed directly in the third qualifying round ). Qualifiers come to the Crucible battle hardened from in some cases long matches whilst the top 16 have been limited to practice only since the China Open last month, some of them missing that event too. Whilst fatigue can be a factor after 3 best of 19s in the ten days before the Crucible, we can screen out players who have had (in a couple of cases)multiple 10-9s to qualify.

The very late stages of ranking tournaments aside, in the modern Barry Hearn era almost all tournaments in the snooker calendar contain short format matches, best of 9 and best of 11 frames and more so than previously some of these seeds come to the crucible nowadays with little short term experience of long frame matches

Seedings for the Crucible are formulated on rolling two year rankings. In some cases that produces “false” seedings from players out of form in the season just ending but whose results up to two years ago in big tournaments with big ranking points protects their seeding in the short term. Stuart Bingham is the prime example of this. Neil Robertson who has had a poor season is another. Two wins last year, six first round exits this.

The draw for the crucible first round took place yesterday.

Pre-draw Seeds I would have wanted to oppose if prices and the draw aligned were as follows:

3 Stuart Bingham (as above)
6 John Higgins (in markedly worse form than he was in the Autumn)
9 Neil Robertson (as above)
10 Ali Carter (back in the top 16 after winning the world open, only one deep run since)
11 Mark Allen (below average season, has dropped down the rankings)
16 Ryan Day (a deep run in the World Grand Prix to sneak into the sixteen here, but very opposable).

The list of potential qualifiers I was interested in (many a winter day mis-spent watching far-flung ranking tournaments on Eurosport), looking for up and comers due to improve rapidly through the rankings has a Far Eastern flavour which is not an accident as the next generation of players following Ding Junhui is reaching maturity and there are a couple of future stars amongst them. I am not too interested in the likes of Ebdon, Dott and O’Brien, being more interested in young players who can improve beyond their current ranking.

The toughest qualifier is probably Maguire who certainly would have been priced up as favourite against several seeds. There are five debutants this year and two made my list, all Chinese. Obviously picking debutants comes with a risk, it’s a big stage, but Bingtao in particular looks born to it.

Yan Bingtao. No one wants him in the draw. He is a 17 year old former world amateur champion, in his first year with a tour card. Has beaten Selby, Allen, Murphy and Wenbo this season
Zhou Yeulong 19 years old, Welsh open quarter finalist this year
Xiao Guodong, not the prospect Bingtao or Yeulong are (and he’s 10-11 years older than both) but rebounded from a poor 2015 with better results this season. Seriously in form when beating Mark King 10-4 in final qualifying. He’s fresh, won his three qualifying games dropping only 10 frames.(10-2 10-4 10-4)
Luca Brecel, reached the crucible aged 17 in 2012 but hasn’t quite kicked on from “next big thing” status on first joining the tour but has picked up this season with a quarter final in the UK Championship

Outside those 4, watching qualifying I was subsequently looking out for:

Tom Ford, finalist at the paul hunter classic this year and quarter finalist at the German masters. just outside the top 16 and held off Varaei in final qualifying who was in brilliant form.
Stuart Carrington, beat Mark Williams well in final qualifying. Quarter finalist at the welsh open
I was especially interested in Bingtao and Yeulong who when they won the World Doubles for China just under two years ago defeated finalist Stephen Maguire stated that he believed he had watched two future world champions.

So I looked to match these two lists up, vulnerable seeds versus qualifiers with potential, look at the value we get on the underdog and go looking for upsets!

Bingtao drew Shaun Murphy, cross off the list
Yeulong drew Ding Junhui, a great draw but cross off the list
Brecel drew Marco Fu, cross off the list
Ford drew Hawkins, cross off the list
Carrington drew Liang Wenbo, winnable but cross off the list
That leaves
Guodong drew Ryan Day

Of the remaining vulnerable seeds

Bingham drew Peter Ebdon (no need for sleeping pills that night).
Higgins drew Martin Gould who priced at 5/2 has a shot
Robertson drew the Thai debutant Saengkham
Carter drew Dott
Allen drew Jimmy Robertson

Not too much to go at there, so the match where the two lists match up is

Xiao Guodong to beat Ryan Day, World Championship first round at 13/8 with Betfred or Coral. The match is Wednesday 19th.