World Snooker Championship: Four to follow from 11/4 to triple-figure odds

Seven-time world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan
Ronnie O'Sullivan has only lost eight matches this season

The pinnacle of the snooker season kicks off tomorrow morning at the sport's spiritual home, the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. Here's Paul Krishnamurty's preview with a tip from each quarter of the draw...

  • O'Sullivan the one to beat as ever

  • Strongest set of qualifiers in years

  • Vafaei to continue progress

With the qualifying marathon completed, the World Snooker Championship heads a couple of miles from the Institute of Sport to the Crucible Theatre, where action begins tomorrow morning. It is far from clear how long snooker's premier event will remain in its spiritual home, so do try and get to this wonderful venue while you can.

One very notable absentee this year is Neil Robertson, who lost a thriller on Thursday to Jamie Jones. However, if measured by the two-year rankings, this is the strongest line-up since 2011.

Ronnie chasing his first triple crown

The 2023-24 season has been less open than for many a year too. Ronnie O'Sullivan has won five tournaments, including the first two legs of the triple crown, and has only lost eight matches. Judd Trump has also won five, and shown his best form since the season he won this title, 2018-19.

There will be no 'dream final', though, because O'Sullivan and Trump are scheduled to meet in the semis. With Mark Williams, twice a winner this term and superb in the last event, also in their half, the draw is notably lop-sided. An opportunity to find each-way value, perhaps?

Brecel to fall foul of the Crucible Curse

The top quarter is particularly weak and wide-open. As defending champion Luca Brecel takes the number one seeding, but the Belgian has done very little to justify it this season. He must, of course, also overcome the famed 'Crucible Curse', which afflicts all first-time winners.

Brecel was magnificent last year but I've never been sold on his carefree, attacking style. If everything is aligned, anything is possible, but he is always vulnerable in my view.

The others with Crucible pedigree here are Shaun Murphy and Ali Carter. Shaun hasn't had a great season by any stretch but tends to bring his A-game to majors. Ditto Carter. Only O'Sullivan stopped them at the Masters. I'm happy to take on both, though, with a qualifier. Do not underestimate the advantage of arriving 'match fit' after coming through that high-pressure process.

Pang Junxu one to watch

The one I like is Pang Junxu. Now 24, Pang instantly took to the professional circuit and claimed big scalps. He performed very creditably on last year's Crucible debut, taking O'Sullivan to 10-7. That same season, he reached a ranking final and a semi.

Pang's wider profile suggests he'll come up short in the latter stages, but I think we could get a nice run at big odds. He's favourite to beat Rob Milkins in the first round and may not be bigger than 2/1 against anyone he'll reach prior to the semis. Take 230.0229/1 to win on the Exchange and 40/141.00 via the Sportsbook to reach the final.

It isn't certain the second quarter will be won by one of the favourites either. Mark Selby and John Higgins have both talked of retirement during a frustrating season. Neither look the force of old. Kyren Wilson has endured a terrible season.

Back Pang Junxu 0.25u @ 230.0229/1

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Back Pang Junxu to reach the final 0.5u @ 40/141.00

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Allen looks a frontline contender

In contrast Mark Allen is better than ever, landing three titles this term, but has never reached a Crucible final. To be fair, that might historically have been due to his weight, which is no longer a factor. The new, slimmed-down Allen reached the semis last year and only went down 17-15. He is very much respected.

It is tempting to take them all on with a qualifier. My pick is Jamie Jones, fresh off his beating of Robertson to get here. Jones has a decent Crucible record, thrice making the last-16 and once the quarters. He shouldn't fear Higgins in the first round and after that, this half of the draw could well open up.

Back Jamie Jones 0.25u @ 200.0199/1

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Back Jamie Jones to reach the final 0.5u @ 50/151.00

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Tricky draw for Trump

The third quarter is led by Trump and Williams, but neither have an easy starter. Judd only leads Hossein Vafaei 5-3 throughout their careers and the Iranian has evidently come on leaps and bounds in recent times. Williams faces last year's revelation, Si Jiahui, who won the last ten frames of his final qualifier.

The alternatives in this section aren't so convincing. Zhang Anda has enjoyed an incredible season but I'm sceptical he keeps it going at the Crucible. Tom Ford seems certain to fall short if reaching the latter stages.

I'll go for Vafaei, who also did very well to defy an early deficit in his final qualifier. He was superb in the first round here last year against Ding Junhui before committing the cardinal sin of mouthing off before facing O'Sullivan. The Rocket taught him a valuable lesson in a 13-2 thrashing.

Back Hossein Vafaei 0.75u @ 75.074/1

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Vafaei to thrive on the big stage again

The pair met again in the Masters semi, with another one-sided outcome. Even if beating Trump, that may well ultimately prove Vafaei's fate again, but he does seem to like big stages and is preferred at twelve times the odds of Trump.

Back Hossein Vafaei to reach the final 0.5u @ 25/126.00

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O'Sullivan to dominate his rivals yet again

The bets so far have been cheap, ensuring plenty of stake left in the pot for a big bet on the favourite. With Sportsbook boosting his odds to 11/43.75, O'Sullivan has to be the pick.

The only achievements Ronnie has left in the game are to pass his joint-record with Stephen Hendry of seven world titles, and to complete a triple crown in the same season. That he hasn't done the latter already will surprise most people. I backed him to do so before the Masters and am confident now the draw is out. Trump and Williams are feared if meeting in the semis, but that's it.

Consider the rest. Jackson Page will likely be blown away in round one. Then Ronnie will most likely face opponents whom he has long dominated - Barry Hawkins and Ding Junhui. Ding has won some big matches against him, including here in 2017, and is resurgent, but trails 20-4 overall and lost their three matches this season on big stages.

If forced to pick an alternative in this section, it would be Gary Wilson. He's very much on the up, fulfilling his long-known potential, and could well beat Ding in round two. However he also trails Ronnie 5-1.

Sometimes one can over-think betting and try to get a favourite beaten. Don't do that here - the 11/43.75 about the GOAT is a perfectly reasonable offer.

Back Ronnie O'Sullivan 10u @ 11/43.75

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*Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty

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