Betfred World Championship 2009: Tournament Preview – Part Two

Hot on the heels of Wednesday’s preview of the top quarter of the Betfred World Championship draw, here is my assessment of the second quarter, which features two former world champions and one of the tournament favourites, Mark Selby…

Before I get onto the matches themselves, a quick word of thanks to Jim who has provided me with the head to head statistics for each of the matches.

To view part one of my preview, please click here:

Match Five: John Higgins (5) v Michael Holt (34)

The last time these two were paired together in the last 32 at Sheffield it was John Higgins who won comfortably on his way to his second world title at the famous old theatre. This year though it promises to be a far closer contest as Michael has really shown genuine signs of improvement this season…

Head to Head

Look away now Michael as this will not make good reading. The pair have met four times so far and the winner on each occasion has been John Higgins who therefore leads their head to head 4-0. The first win was 5-1 in the last 16 of the 1999 British Open (with a 114), followed by a 9-6 score in the quarter finals of the 1999 UK (a 140 in reply to Holt’s 104), a 5-1 in the last 32 of the Thailand Masters two seasons later (with a 138 & 106) and finally a 10-4 drubbing in the first round at the Crucible two years ago with a 104.

Crucible History


  • 1995 – R32, lost 10-3 to Alan McManus
  • 1996 – QF, lost 13-12 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 1997 – QF, lost 13-9 to Ken Doherty
  • 1998 – WINNER, defeated Ken Doherty 18-12
  • 1999 – SF, lost 17-10 to Mark Williams
  • 2000 – SF, lost 17-15 to Mark Williams
  • 2001 – F, lost 18-14 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 2002 – QF, lost 13-7 to Matthew Stevens
  • 2003 – QF, lost 13-8 to Ken Doherty
  • 2004 – R16, lost 13-10 to Graeme Dott
  • 2005 – R16, lost 13-8 to Shaun Murphy
  • 2006 – R32, lost 10-4 to Mark Selby
  • 2007 – WINNER, defeated Mark Selby 18-13
  • 2008 – R16, lost 13-9 to Ryan Day


  • 2005 – R16, lost 13-10 to Steve Davis
  • 2006 – R32, lost 10-8 to Peter Ebdon
  • 2007 – R32, lost 10-4 to John Higgins

Season So Far

Having struggled to produce his best snooker on a consistent basis during 2007/8, John has enjoyed a much stronger season this time around, highlighted of course by victory in the Grand Prix back in October. In fact, apart from the zero points he received in Bahrain due to the clash of dates with the Premier League, John has reached at least the last 16 stage in every event and as a result is up to third in the one-year rankings. Most recently he reached the final of the China Open, where he eventually came unstuck against Peter Ebdon.

For Michael this season has also been a much stronger effort than 2007/8 however, and one that will see him move back inside the top 32 at the end of the campaign. His best run was that to the last 16 in Bahrain, but I will stop short of describing that as a highlight given his eventual 5-4 defeat from 4-0 up against Robert Milkins! He has since responded well though and won some good matches to make it to the Crucible.

Why John Will Win


One of the all-time snooker greats, John has achieved so much in the game already but at his best is still capable of beating anyone and competing for honours at the very highest level. More importantly this season however has been John’s ability to win matches when he is not at his best, as demonstrated perfectly at the Grand Prix earlier this season. There really are few peoples who have a B-game as good as John and are as capable of moving up a gear when they need to in order to win.

With all his experience, I would also say that John is probably the most complete player around at the moment, able to knock in the big breaks – as evidenced by his 30 century breaks this season – while still being widely regarded as one of the strongest tactical players in the game. If John plays well therefore, he has a great chance of beating anyone, but even if he has an off-day, he can still hang in there and come through.

Finally John always seems to be a player who performs when it really matters, at the big BBC events such as the Grand Prix, Masters and the World Championship, each of which he has won during recent seasons. Having achieved so much he recently admitted in a Snooker Scene podcast that sometimes he does not get the same buzz out of the smaller tournaments but there will be no danger of that here…

Why Michael Will Win

Having shown flashes of his undoubted talent over the last few years, Michael’s game has always been undermined by his questionable temperament which has until now prevented him from really pushing on in the game. At thirty years old however, it looks like he is finally getting on top of this and is now feeling as confident about his game as ever before.

There have been a number of impressive moments from Michael this season but for me the defining one was his reaction to his defeat to Robert Milkins in Bahrain. At 4-0 up at the mid-session interval he a certainty to reach the quarter-finals of an event for only the fourth time in his career, but a combination of terrible luck and quality play from Milkins conspired against him and he eventually slipped to a 5-4 defeat.

At this point I wondered whether all the good work previously would go out of the window and whether he might well revert to type and start to struggle again. I need not have worried though as he put the defeat to one side and immediately won his next match in the UK qualifiers and has continued to enjoy a good season since. Another example of his improved mental state actually came during his first qualifying match for the World Championship when, at 9-8 down, he pulled out breaks of 62 and then 127 to win the match and progress to the last 48, a performance that a year ago I would not have fancied him to deliver.

Against Higgins therefore, although he might not have done himself justice when they last met in 2007, he is looking like a far more solid player now and I think could well push John closer…

My Prediction

Overall I do expect it to be a closer affair than it was back in 2007 and, particularly if he can get off to a good start, I would certainly not rule ‘Holty’ out here. Ultimately though I find it hard to back against someone with the experience, form and outright class of Higgins and I would be fairly shocked to see him lose early on at the Crucible. Sorry Sammy but I’ll go for a 10-6 victory for the Scotsman!

Match Six: Joe Perry (12) vs Jamie Cope (19)

2008 semi-finalist Joe Perry will begin his ninth campaign at the Crucible against the ‘Shotgun’ Jamie Cope, a man who will be desperate to win his first match at the venue in order to keep his hopes of moving into the top 16 alive…

Head to Head

Perhaps slightly surprisingly it is Jamie Cope who leads their head to head 3-2, following a 5-3 victory in the last 64 of the 2005 Grand Prix, 5-4 in the quarter finals of the same event a season later (despite two Perry centuries), and 3-1 in the fourth group of the 2007 Championship League with two tons of his own.

More encouragingly for Joe however, he has won their last two encounters, 3-0 in the last 16 of the Belgian Open and 5-2 in the last 32 of the Northern Ireland Trophy this season.

Crucible History


  • 1999 – R16, lost 13-8 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 2002 – R16, lost 13-7 to Peter Ebdon
  • 2003 – R32, lost 10-4 to Shaun Storey
  • 2004 – QF, lost 13-10 to Matthew Stevens
  • 2006 – R32, lost 10-3 to Ryan Day
  • 2007 – R32, lost 10-3 to Stephen Maguire
  • 2008 – SF, lost 17-15 to Ali Carter


  • 2008 – R32, lost 10-9 to Peter Ebdon

Season So Far

Coming into the season on a real high following his first World semi-final and victory in the 2008 Championship League, it has turned out to be a frustrating season for Joe as he has struggled to really make an impact in the ranking events. This can in part be attributed to a number of horrible last 16 draws, pairing him with Ronnie O’Sullivan three times, Stephen Maguire once and Judd Trump on another occasion, but all in all I think that he will be disappointed only to have made one quarter-final. Furthermore he has lost in the opening round of the last two ranking event tournaments, as well as at the Masters, so has not had the best run of form recently.

For Jamie it has been a frustrating time too, as once again he has struggled to maintain any consistency and as a result may fall short of that elusive top 16 place for another season. His best runs came early on in the campaign as he qualified for the first three tournaments, but following the Grand Prix he lost in three of his opening matches and will now need to reach at the least the quarter-finals in Sheffield to stand any chance of a top 16 place.

Why Joe Will Win

Though he has not quite been able to string a good run together in a ranking tournament, his performances this season have actually been quite good, as he showed when reaching the semi-finals of the Premier League competition on his debut before losing out narrowly to Ronnie O’Sullivan. Indeed this has been the story of his season as he lost out 5-4 to Ronnie in Northern Ireland, 6-5 to him in the Masters and 5-3 in Shanghai. Add to that list his 5-4 defeat to David Gilbert in the Welsh Open and you have a lot of close matches that could have gone either way.

He also of course managed to seal that terrific first major win over O’Sullivan in the UK Championship when, from 5-3 down, he completely outplayed the defending champion to move into the quarter-finals. In that match he again he showed his resilience, and that he is capable both of scoring heavily and of winning the more tactical frames – something that will serve him well against Jamie, who for me is not the best tactically.

Also, recent form in the major events aside he did again qualify for the winners group of the Championship League before eventually bowing out at the semi-final stage to Mark Selby, so has been getting wins and crucial match practice in 2009 against top players.

Why Jamie Will Win

Having come so close to defeating Peter Ebdon last year on his debut at the Crucible, hopefully from Jamie’s point of view he should at least be better off for the experience and hopefully have learned a lot about how to approach this type of match at the Crucible Theatre. I was also going to say that he will hopefully be able to settle down in the match pretty quickly as a result but of course against Ebdon he was very good early on and it was Peter who just managed to hang onto him in the first session, before completing a fine comeback the following day.

Joe for me is the stronger all-round player, but having lost his opening matches in each of the last three major tournaments there is a chance that he may be a touch low on confidence going into the match. If Jamie can get off to a good start, making the majority of those long-pots that he is so good at and scoring heavily as he did early on in the season, then it will be interesting to see how Joe reacts. The fact that Joe went as far as the semi-finals last season will inevitably increase the expectation levels as far as he is concerned and perhaps this pressure will start to increase if he falls behind early on.

Finally, Jamie is also faced with a straightforward scenario in terms of his ranking – he must win this match if he is to keep his hopes of a top 16 place alive, it is as simple as that. Often when a player might make the 16 depending on other results it can cloud their mind somewhat, but the equation for Jamie is must-win, and this could either help him or hinder him depending on his own mindset.

My Prediction

It will be very interesting to see how this match unfolds because if Jamie can score well from the start, he could put Joe under real pressure, as he did Peter Ebdon at this stage a year ago. As I have said though, I feel that Joe has the stronger all-round game and if he can bring that to the Crucible, I think that he should create enough opportunities to win. I’ll say…10-7.

Match Seven: Graeme Dott (13) vs Barry Hawkins (27)

A few months ago this tie would have been many people’s tip for a first round upset at the Crucible, but with the improved form shown by Graeme Dott recently, it has become much harder to predict…

Head to Head

Surprisingly for two players who have both been around for well over a decade, Graeme and Barry have only met once before in professional competition. This came at the 2005 Failte Irish Masters when a break of 128 helped Barry to a 5-4 win. As a result he leads their head to head 1-0.

Crucible History


  • 1997 – R32, lost 10-9 to James Wattana
  • 2000 – R32, lost 10-6 to Steve Davis
  • 2001 – R32, lost 10-4 to John Higgins
  • 2002 – R16, lost 13-2 to John Higgins
  • 2003 – R16, lost 13-12 to Ken Doherty
  • 2004 – F, lost 18-8 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 2005 – R32, lost 10-9 to Ian McCulloch
  • 2006 – WINNER, defeated Peter Ebdon 18-14
  • 2007 – R32, lost 10-7 to Ian McCulloch
  • 2008 – R32, lost 10-7 to Joe Perry


  • 2006 – R32, lost 10-1 to Ken Doherty
  • 2007 – R32, lost 10-9 to Fergal O’Brien
  • 2008 – R32, lost 10-9 to Ali Carter

Season So Far

Coming into the season needing a strong campaign to remain inside the top 16, Graeme suffered a huge blow at the Shanghai Masters when he broke his wrist in the days leading up to the tournament and was forced to miss that, the Grand Prix and almost the Bahrain Championship, though in any event he lost early anyway.

Since then however, though Graeme lost out early in the Masters, last 16 appearances in both the UK Championship and Welsh Open tournaments before a quarter-final in Beijing have seen his confidence return as we approach the big one.

For Barry meanwhile it has generally been a strong season, winning at least one match in six of the eight ranking events held. The only concern for him will be that the two early defeats he has endured have come in the last two tournaments, so he has not had too many wins in 2009 and the top 16 place that looked fairly safe over Christmas is now in the balance…

Why Graeme Will Win

As his form suggests, Graeme had a tough start to the season but with his recent victories it appears to me that he has come through the worst and is now approaching somewhere near his best form after a difficult 18 months. In particular, pushing eventual winner Ali Carter so close in Wales and his hammering of one of the tournament favourites Mark Selby in China should give his confidence a huge boost and hopefully have reminded him how to win again.

It is easy to forget but just three years ago Graeme took home the trophy at the Crucible and followed it up with victory in the China Open, a semi-final in the UK Championship and really looked the part. Though he has struggled since then for various reasons, he still has the ability, the tenacity and the experience at the Crucible to challenge hard and who knows, maybe surprise a few people.

The final factor that could be important is that having fallen to Stuart Pettman at the quarter-final stage in China, Graeme must beat Hawkins if he is to remain inside the top 32 in the rankings. One trend that we saw in China was that those who really needed to win (incuding Graeme himself), generally did win and upset the form book, so it could be the case that this fact will inspire Graeme to another crucial victory at the Crucible.

Why Barry Will Win

For Barry this will be his fourth visit to the Crucible and having lost out to Ali Carter in controversial circumstances last season (having come back from 6-9 to 9-9, only to be pulled off the table due to the match overrunning), he will be desperate to make up for that and finally win his first match there.

The last couple of events apart, Barry has this season looked much more like the player that rose as high as 12th in the rankings a few years ago, and having consistently been winning matches, should come into the event with confidence. Furthermore his performance in the deciding frame of his World Championship qualifier against Daniel Wells can only have given him a lift. Having virtually led the match from the start and 6-3 at the interval, he must have been horrified to see the Welsh youngster come back at him as he did, but he held his nerve in the decider and won it in one visit with an immaculate break under pressure.

Also like Graeme, this match is not just significant for Barry because of the tournament itself, but having stumbled in the Welsh and China Open tournaments, barring all of his closest rivals in the rankings losing early he will need to win this match to move back inside the top 16. Having failed to really settle during his last spell there, Barry would probably make a much better job of it second time around now that he has an idea of what to expect.

My Prediction

As this is a must-win match for both players in terms of the rankings, never mind the fact that it is the World Championship, it promises to be a fascinating encounter and one that could go all the way. Many will be anticipating an upset here and it certainly could happen, but I am going to have to favour another seeded player in this quarter and go for Graeme. He might have had a tough season and he might not be the most naturally talented player out there, but he is cueing well again, looking like he is enjoying his snooker now and will not go down without a fight. Sorry Barry but I I will predict more Crucible heartache and a 10-8 Dott win.

Match Eight: Mark Selby (4) vs Ricky Walden (35)

Having already met twice this season and won one match each, Mark Selby and Ricky Walden will both be really up for what is on paper unquestionably one of the ties of the first round…

Head to Head

Of their four clashes to date, Ricky won the one that really mattered as he came from behind to defeat Mark 6-4 in the semi-finals of the Shanghai Masters earlier this season. Mark leads their head to head 3-1 however as he has won all of their other appearances,  including their match at the Masters earlier this season (6-5), and their World Championship qualifier back in 2007 (10-6 with a break of 139). His other victory came last season in the last 32 of the China Open as he won 5-2 with two terrific breaks of 117 and 109 along the way.

Crucible History


  • 2005 – R32, lost 10-5 to John Higgins
  • 2006 – R16, lost 13-8 to Mark Williams
  • 2007 – F, lost 18-13 to John Higgins
  • 2008 – R32, lost 10-8 to Mark King


  • N/A


It has been a really strange season for Mark as at times he has performed like one of the best players in the world, particularly in the non-ranking events such as the Premier League and the Masters where he made the final on each occasion before losing to Ronnie O’Sullivan. In the ranking events however he has not had nearly as much success, consistently winning his opening matches and looking strong in doing so, only to stumble in the last 16 or quarter-finals and not really make his performances count.

Ricky meanwhile has had an excellent season, starting the year ranked 35th, winning his first ranking-event tournament in Shanghai, playing at Wembley in the Masters for the first time and is now set to make his Crucible debut, having defeated Anthony Hamilton and Rod Lawler in qualifying.

Why Mark Will Win

Though it may not be reflected in his results this season, since 2007 Mark is one of the most improved players on the tour and has developed into one of the most complete. He has always had a strong safety game but these days it is even better, and he has also started to score heavily, as evidenced by him making a personal best of 145 in the Championship League recently. There might be a few better potters, better break builders and a few better safety players, but there are few players who are as strong all-round and as versatile as Mark, which is what for me makes him so dangerous.

Although he has struggled to reproduce the heroics that took him to the Masters and Welsh Open titles in 2008, Mark’s game does look to be in good shape at the moment and funnily enough it could work to his advantage that he has not had such a good season. Indeed last year he came into the tournament as the form player on the tour and ended up losing early to Mark King, much the same as John Higgins in 2006 when he fell to guess who, Mark Selby in the first round. Higgins then had a pretty poor season in 2006/7 but it all came together at the Crucible and he went on to win his second world title. Could it be Mark’s turn to emerge from the shadows of a difficult season? Slightly tenuous reasoning granted but it shows what can happen.

Ricky Walden is an excellent player but despite that win in Shanghai, in comparison to Selby he does lack experience at the very highest level and as a debutant at the Crucible, may take some time to settle down in what is a very unique arena. If Selby can exploit this and build up a lead, then he would hope to do a better job of maintaining it than he did against Ricky in Shanghai last year.

Ricky also has the added pressure of needing to win to keep his hopes of a top 16 place alive for next season. This could work both ways as it could inspire him, but it could also overcome him and work in Mark’s favour as the match progresses.

Why Ricky Will Win

Though it has taken a while for Ricky to make the breakthrough and become a regular in front of the TV cameras, he has been tipped for success for a long time now, just see this piece written by Dave Hendon back in January 2007.

Now that he has started to fulfil this promise, one apparent strength is that he is not scared of a big occasion, as demonstrated by defeating the likes of Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Mark Selby himself and Ronnie O’Sullivan en route to that Shanghai victory. Furthermore he also won his first match at Wembley against Mark King and pushed Selby all the way in his second, so he has shown that he can settle down quickly on the big stage and impress, something that he will need to do again if he is to get the better of Mark.

Regarding his actual game I do not think that he is quite at the level that Mark has shown over the last couple of seasons, but his confidence is at an all-time high (his 10-1 thrashing of Rod Lawler was near perfection) and if there are any doubts in Mark’s mind on the day, he knows that he is capable of doing the job and beating him.

Finally like Barry Hawkins and Graeme Dott, Ricky will know that he has to win this match in order to stand any chances of moving up into the top 16 for next season and this might just be something that could inspire to him to put in a special performance.

My Prediction

Having already defeated Mark once previously this season, Ricky cannot be discounted here as he looks to consign Selby to a second opening round defeat at the Crucible in as many seasons. Overall though I have to favour Mark on the basis that he is a stronger all-round player and is overdue another run deep into a ranking tournament. 10-8.

Check back soon for Part Three…