The highlight of the year less than 48 hours away. Seventeen days of wall-to-wall snooker at the best venue in the business, with every shot shown live on Betfair. Game on!
The most wide-open championship ever?
In 45 years of following this sport religiously, there has never been a season like 2021-22. Three of the last five ranking tournaments went to enormous priced outsiders, none of whom even qualified for these final stages. The penultimate major was won by a 200-1 chance who, in the same season, has won a ranking final 9-0 and lost to an amateur.
Nor as many open questions going into a World Championship, or a field more wide-open. Is the defending champion even a serious contender? Is this the year a Chinese player finally becomes world champion? Will the favourite finally bring his A-game to the Crucible? Can Ronnie O'Sullivan equal Stephen Hendry's record of seven world titles? Will the formbook stand up? What actually is the formbook, given so many recent upsets?
Selby's wellbeing must be taken on trust
Regarding the first question, we will get immediate signals as the defending champion always plays in the opening match. Mark Selby has endured a grim season on the table, and has openly suffered with mental health issues off it.
Only a fool would write off the four-time champion and best Crucible competitor of his generation, but taking 11.010/1 for the title without seeing any evidence of turning a corner is fraught with risk. Wait and see.
Hard matches all the way for defending champ
Jamie Jones will be no pushover on Saturday. The Welshman eliminated seeds in the first round of his two latest Crucible appearances and looks just the type to thrive in this atmosphere and bely underdog status and 4/1 odds.
Not that gruelling matches usually handicap Selby, but his path looks tough. Yan Bingtao, who leads him 4-3 head-to-head, likely awaits in the last-16, before either Mark Williams or Barry Hawkins unless one suffers an unlikely early defeat. Selby's standard of snooker has been inferior to all three over the past year.
Hawkins set for another good major
There really isn't much to choose between that trio. Bingtao's temperament and style look perfect for the Crucible. Williams showed he's no back number at the Masters. Barry Hawkins has a fine majors record and is twice a runner-up this year. After much deliberation, the last-named gets the nod on the grounds of being the biggest odds.
That the general consensus is that Judd Trump has had a poor year, despite winning two titles, is a measure of just how good he's been in recent years. From 4.57/2 at the start of the season, the 2019 champion is out to 6.611/2. He's the selection in Dave Tindall's excellent trends piece.
Trump could be vulnerable in early rounds
Not for me. I've never felt Trump had a brilliant B-game and, by his own admission, he hasn't been firing on all cylinders. Plus his early draw is very tricky. Both Hossein Vafaei and, potentially, Anthony McGill would appeal at big odds to turn him over in the first two rounds. Indeed the latter is one of the best Crucible performers of recent years.
Marginally ahead on that front is Kyren Wilson. At least a quarter-finalist in the last six renewals, Wilson was superb in 2020 before what seemed like freezing against Ronnie O'Sullivan in the final. Likewise last year he looked a champion-in-waiting before being blown away by Shaun Murphy in one of the best final sessions of snooker ever played at the semi-final stage.
Wilson deserves another chance on this stage
In the last two renewals, he's beaten Neil Robertson and Trump. Thus disproving the theory that he can't cope against the very best. Whilst is true that Kyren has become a perennial quarter-finalist, I'm sticking with my longstanding belief that he will become world champion.
The first round draw couldn't have gone worse for him, though. Ding Junhui must also been considered a title contender, despite having to qualify. There were plenty of signs of resurgence in the last two ranking events, if not quite at the level that took him to the 2016 final. Had he not drawn one of my selections, Ding may have made the staking plan.
Robertson very much the one to beat
The one very clear signal to be taken from the formbook is that Neil Robertson is player of the year. The Aussie has won four titles, including a Masters and a very high-class Tour Championship. We have, however, been here before.
It is one of sport's great mysteries how this prolific tournament winner hasn't appeared in a Crucible final since winning the 2010 title. He's improved considerably during that period, too. He's often looked ominous in the early rounds, before falling short in pressure situations in later, three-session matches.
Possibly, he simply lacks the focus to peak over those longer matches. Perhaps he burns himself out earlier in the season. History may well repeat itself but in the early rounds at least, I can't see who stops him. I expect the Aussie to make light work of Ashley Hugill and Jack Lisoswki and odds of 5.04/1 to collapse to around 3.02/1 before the quarters.
Worst ways, Robertson would face John Higgins there. Twice this season, he's downed the Scot with incredible comebacks in finals. The younger man would start a strong favourite for that, assuming Higgins has recovered mentally to negotiate his own early matches. One player I like in that mini-section is Noppon Saengkham - available to back at 280.0279/1 on the exchange.
Ronnie will take some stopping from this draw
Finally, the biggest question. Can the GOAT fulfil the one achievement left in the game? Yes, Ronnie O'Sullivan can certainly win a seventh title. Were he not drawn in the same half as Robertson, who has beaten him three times in big matches since the turn of the year, he may very well have been an outright pick.
Not because he's in the form of his life, but because nobody else strongly appeals in this bottom section. Dave Gilbert is a tricky first opponent, with some Crucible pedigree, but has never beaten O'Sullivan. After that, nobody is sure to be at their best.
Zhao Xintong remains the great unknown. Capable of anything but very inconsistent, without any experience of three-session matches here. Shaun Murphy has endured a grim struggle with form and fitness, but came in as an outsider before reaching last year's final.
Maguire chanced after qualifying run
Mark Allen has a terrible record in the World Championship, but a decent one against O'Sullivan, were they to meet in the second round. Stephen Maguire needed to qualify after a poor season.
Those question marks are reflected in the market. Allen is trading at 60.059/1, Murphy 80.079/1 and Maguire 120.0119/1 on the exchange. Eyecatching odds given their pedigree. One will likely find their A-game on the big stage.
I'm going for the latter, along with a bet at 31.030/1 to reach the final. Maguire is arguably the best player never to reach a Crucible final. He played very well in qualifying, knocking in a spate of tons. His 'On Fire' nickname stems from a remarkable short spell way back and he's remained a streaky type. This could be a good moment to get on.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty