World Championship 2012: Qualifying Preview – Part One

So the 2012 World Championship qualifiers at the English Institute for Sport are now upon us following the day’s preliminary round matches in Sheffield. Click below for my look ahead at the draw and how the various sections may unfold…

  • Click here to view the qualifying drawsheet
  • Click here to view the latest projected seedings
  • Click here to view my analysis of the rankings battles heading into the tournament

Route 1

Kicking us off at the head of the draw are Tian Pengfei and Adam Wicheard, two players who have both competed in the competition before with limited success, but will be hoping for a stronger run in 2012. There is one previous meeting between the two, Adam having defeated Tian 4-2 at the penultimate round of last season’s first Q School on his way to securing his place on the main tour for 2011/12.

Of the two, Tian has been the more consistent throughout the season so far and will be favourite to progress, though Adam did recently enjoy the best run of his career to date to qualify for the Welsh Open in February.

The winner will next meet Anthony McGill, the Scottish youngster hoping to improve upon a first-round exit to Paul Davison in this competition in 2011. After a difficult end to last season, McGill has been relatively solid this time around, particularly impressing at the German Masters qualifiers where he was unfortunate to lose out to Ryan Day in a decider. Incidentally he has met Tian twice already this season, losing 5-1 to an inspired opponent back in the Australian Goldfields Open qualifiers, while gaining revenge in a decider at the PTC3 event. He has also met Adam Wicheard once, whitewashing his fellow youngster at PTC2.

From here however, this section is full of experience with Anthony Hamilton and Ken Doherty seeded to meet for a place at the Crucible. Strangely enough, despite Ken actually being the higher seed and therefore coming in at the final qualifying round, it is actually Anthony who is ahead in my latest projected seedings list following a consistent season highlighted by his September run to the quarter-finals of the Shanghai Masters tournament. To add further intrigue, Anthony defeated Ken in the final qualifying round of that tournament en route to the last eight.

If Hamilton is to make it through to the final round, there is a case to argue that he would be the favourite, with a strong head to head record against Doherty, including a 13-12 win against his opponent at the Crucible in 2000. On the other hand however, Ken if not as consistent as he once was, on his day remains a force and will be desperate to make amends for his 10-6 defeat to Jimmy Robertson at the same stage of the tournament a year ago…

Route 2

Pathway two sees Joe Swail take on fellow struggler Daniel Wells in what is simply a must-win match for the twice former Crucible semi-finalist if he is to keep his hopes alive of having to avoid entering the Q School in order to maintain his professional status beyond this season. It has been a tough campaign for Joe, with just one win against Luca Brecel at the German Masters to show for the season’s full-ranking event qualifiers.

For Daniel however, his third spell on the main tour has been surprisingly even worse, with just two wins to his name in either full ranking events, or PTC events. A tough match to call then, I would favour Joe on account of his greater experience and perhaps motivation given what is at stake for him, but it was not too long ago that Wells was able to win three matches to come within a frame of a Crucible appearance.

Either way, the winner will have their work cut out in their second match, with Leicester’s Ben Woollaston waiting on the back of his best professional campaign to date. Having already won his first professional tournament at the PTC3 event, Ben has risen from 69th position at the start of season rankings, to a current position of 46th in my latest projected seedings list and will be looking to cement his place inside the top 48 with a good run here.

If he can win his opener, Ben will come up against six-time Crucible champion Steve Davis, a player who needs no introduction and in comparison to a year ago, one who has enjoyed a strong season, narrowly missing out on a place in the PTC Grand Finals and recently making it as far as the last 16 at the Welsh Open. While it would be a tough ask to expect him to repeat his quarter-final run of a couple of years ago, I for one would not rule out another run at the tournament in 2012. Often Steve is a player who starts slowly, for example trailing Jack Lisowski 7-3 last year in his opener, as well as Lee Spick 5-0 a couple of years earlier, before using all of his experience to play his way back into contention.

Awaiting the winner in the third round will be Dominic Dale, the Welshman having enjoyed another solid season in 2011/12 and hoping to make it back to the Crucible for a second successive season. Strangely for a two-time ranking event winner, Dominic has made it to the last 32 of this tournament on relatively few occasions during his long career, but the way he played at times during his final qualifying round victory against Michael Holt last year was certainly impressive.

Route 3

Moving on, Liam Highfield and Matt Couch begin the third section, Liam looking to gain crucial points needed as he bids to secure his place on the tour for next season, in all likelihood needing at least one victory if he is to survive.

While his season has tailed off somewhat following last 16 runs to the first two PTC events as well as the final qualifying round of the Australian Goldfields Open however, Liam should start as a warm favourite against an opponent who has won just five matches this season and not entered an event since the PTC11 back in December.

If Liam can come through, he will then meet fellow On Q player Andy Hicks in the second round, the 1995 Crucible semi-finalist another player who could do with a win in order to secure his place on the tour for another season. It has been a strange season for Andy, on the one hand impressing with a run to the venue stages of the Welsh Open, but on the other losing his opening match at five of the season’s full ranking events so far. On his day Andy remains a formidable opponent, but without a win in this event since his 10-8 success against Jimmy White will be under pressure to win and get some additional ranking points on the board.

Next up will be another On Q player in this section, the fast-rising Welsh youngster Jamie Jones who will be hoping to qualify for his second consecutive venue with a run this week. Though he was to suffer an early exit to wildcard Lu Ning in Beijing recently, he was understandably thrilled to have qualified for his first venue at a full-ranking event and will be hoping to continue his push for a top 32 place here.

The final player in this section is Ricky Walden, another player who has enjoyed a strong season in 2011/12 and now looks set to reclaim a place in the top 16 as a result. Strangely enough, Ricky is also benefiting from having little to defend from 2010 as he lost out to Zhang Anda at the final qualifying round of this tournament.

Who will come through? There is a lot of quality in this section, but given his experience in the competition and form this season, Ricky has to be favourite for me.

Route 4

One man hoping to win four matches to book is place at the Crucible in 2012 is a player who a year ago did exactly that, Welshman Andrew Pagett, who takes on Aditya Mehta in the first round. Having made it to the Crucible in style, Pagett has struggled to build on that in 2011/12 and now looks set to lose his tour place, while opponent Mehta will also need an exceptional run if he is to survive. Of the two Mehta has had the stronger season so far and I would slightly fancy him to edge it, but would not be surprised to see the memories of 2011 inspire Pagett to repeat his run of a year ago either.

Whoever wins will have their work cut out in the next round however as Chinese number three Xiao Guodong looks to qualify for the Crucible for the first time with a successful run in Sheffield. Already up into the provisional top 48 for the first time, as well as having defeated Judd Trump at the PTC Grand Finals recently, Xiao should be confident of at least winning his opener here.

From there however, the section is an experienced one with On Q duo Robert Milkins and Mark Davis lying in wait. Both players have had strong seasons, the latter narrowly missing out on a place in the top 16 on a number of occasions while Milkins recently shone at the Haikou World Open en route to the semi-finals.

The pair met most recently at the last 48 stage of the 2011 German Masters with Milkins coming through in a decider, which is an indication of just how close that potential match-up could be. Don’t rule out Xiao though…

Route 5

The fifth section begins with a contest between China’s Li Yan and Paul Davison, a match that I fancy will be closer than some will expect. Up until the UK Championship Li was unquestionably the rookie player of the year, qualifying for the venue stages of that event with memorable wins against Jack Lisowski and Fergal O’Brien amongst others.

Since then Li’s season has not quite been so spectacular, having had to miss out on a couple of events due to reported health issues, but he did record impressive wins against Ian McCulloch and Mike Dunn in qualifying for the China Open. Davison on the other hand has had a strange season, generally struggling to make an impact on tournaments, but also qualifying for the final stages of the German Masters earlier in 2012. Interestingly, a number of Davison’s defeats have come in deciders this season, notably at the last two events, both to Ireland’s David Morris.

While Li will be a justified favourite, Paul showed last season with wins against Stephen Rowlings and Anthony McGill that he can win matches in the format.

Most of the sections that we have seen so far have a number of players who have enjoyed strong seasons, but with James Wattana, Gerard Greene and Ryan Day all having struggled of late, there is a real opportunity for someone if they can string a run together here.

Could Wattana be the man? He is another with the extra incentive of requiring a run if he is to retain his tour place, while since returning to the tour previously, he has often saved his best for the longer format matches. Gerard Greene has yet to make it to a venue this season, while Day after a reasonable first half to the season has struggled somewhat since his 6-0 reverse at the hands of Mark Selby in York.

Route 6

If Li Yan was the most impressive newcomer at the start of the 2011/12 season, then Yu Delu has been among the best performers in recent times, reaching the last 16 of the German Masters as well as the final qualifying round of the Haikou World Open and China Open tournaments.

He begins his quest for the Crucible with a clash against Northern Ireland’s Patrick Wallace, who won two preliminary round matches against John Parrott and Joe Delaney to reach the first round proper. Although Patrick has not competed on the tour this season, he has won matches during the PTC events that he has entered and a year ago demonstrated that he remains a hard match-player who with no pressure of ranking points, could be a dark horse in the draw.

Whoever can come through that one will then face heavy-scoring Welsh talent Michael White in the second round as he looks to make a major breakthrough with a run in this competition. Having promised much since turning professional shortly before his 16th birthday, Michael has shown definite improvement this season and has been rewarded with a rise into the world’s top 64 as a result.

Another improving player is Matt Selt, up into the top 48 this season for the first time and now hoping to make his Crucible début in 2012. Memorably, Selt actually beat Wallace last season in this competition, 10-9 in the decider with a really clutch clearance which Patrick certainly remembered when I caught up with him at the PTC2 event in Gloucester last year.

Whoever can come through will not only be one match away from the Crucible, but they will also be through to face seven-times champion Stephen Hendry who will be hoping to qualify for the event to extend his unbroken run of 26 consecutive Crucible appearances with victory at the EIS. While Stephen is not the player he once was on a consistent basis, he has applied himself well since falling outside of the top 16, winning all but one of his qualifiers so far and looks as strong as he has for some time.

While it is hard to bet against him coming through, with the likes of Yu, White and Selt lurking, he has certainly been handed one of the tougher draws and I expect will not have a straight-forward match, regardless of who it is against…

Route 7

One of the most unfortunate in this event back in 2011 following his narrow defeat to Xiao Guodong in the first-round, Kurt Maflin will be back again a year later against another Chinese youngster, this time Cao Yupeng who has impressed at times this season, consistently winning matches in the full-ranking events staged.

Interestingly, these two have actually met three times during the last year, Kurt winning their first two encounters at the 2011 China Open wildcard round and Australian Goldfields Open, with Cao gaining a measure of revenge in the recent China Open qualifiers with a 5-4 victory. Too tough to call I fancy.

The winner will face a real test in the form of Dave Harold in the next round, who despite falling outside of the world’s top 48 in recent times remains as tough an opponent to beat as most in the qualifying draw. With quarter-final runs at PTC5 and PTC10, as well as runs to the final qualifying rounds of the Haikou World Open and Welsh Open tournaments in recent times, the Stoke Potter is not without wins and presumably confidence.

Tom Ford

Next up is another experienced hand in the form of Nigel Bond, who will be hoping to avoid a similar fate to last season when he lost a thrilling opening match to Andrew Pagett, having at one stage left his opponent needing snookers in the decider. It should be pointed out that Nigel has won just two matches in 2012, though with his experience it would be easy to read too much into this.

Waiting in the final qualifying round will be Leicester’s Tom Ford, who will be hoping to make it back to the Crucible for a second time following his defeat to Mark Allen in 2010. While there is a lot of quality in this section, having qualified for every event since the 2011 Shanghai Masters, Tom should come into the event confident of extending his run…

Route 8

The final route in the first half of my qualifying preview begins with a Stage One match between Jamie O’Neill and Igor Figueiredo, which will be played on Friday. Having played two matches in the competition already, against an opponent who has not competed in a professional or PTC event all season, I would fancy Jamie to come through, though Igor reminded everyone of his talent earlier this season at the invitational Brazilian Masters.

The winner will face Andrew Norman in the first round proper, with the out of form duo Liu Song and Joe Jogia awaiting whoever can make it through.

Given the form of the respective players in this section of the draw however, favourite to progress to the Crucible will surely be former semi-finalist Marco Fu, though he too has not set the world alight during recent months despite a 147 break during January’s Haikou World Open qualifiers.


Halfway there, check back tomorrow for part two of my qualifying preview…