World Championship 2011: Tournament Preview – Part One

Ahead of the World Championship in both 2009 and 2010 (see archive), I managed to predict 11 of the 16 round one matches correctly so will there be any improvement this time around? We shall soon see. As an extra bonus this time around, Jackpot Jack Lisowski has also added his thoughts on the matches for good measure. Click below for the first of my four preview articles…

Thanks to both Jack for playing along as well as Jim for his assistance with the head to head stats.


Match One: Neil Robertson (1) v Judd Trump (24)

Saturday 16th April will see 2010 champion Neil Robertson begin his title defence and become the latest player to attempt to defy the ‘Crucible Curse’ and successfully retain the title at the first attempt. He could not have asked for a much harder draw however as he faces the talented Judd Trump who comes into the event on the back of his first ranking event success. Could we have a shock on our hands?

Head to Head

Perhaps surprisingly, these two have met just once to date in a ranking event, back in 2006 at the Grand Prix when Neil came through a 3-1 winner on his way to his first major title.

They have however met on a number of occasions during some of the smaller tournaments, notably the 2010 Championship League when they met on three occasions. Of those, Neil won two of them 3-2, including their meeting during the winner’s group while Judd did at least record his first win against the Australian in Group 3, by a 3-1 margin. They also met earlier in the season during the Premier League, Neil winning 4-2.

Their most recent encounter came at last summer’s Austrian Open tournament, Judd coming out on top 6-4 against the newly crowned world champion playing in his first tournament since the Crucible. Nevertheless, it is Neil who holds a 4-2 advantage in all competitions.

Crucible History


  • 2005 – R32, lost 10-7 to Stephen Hendry
  • 2006 – QF, lost 13-12 to Graeme Dott
  • 2007 – R16, lost 13-10 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 2008 – R16, lost 13-7 to Stephen Maguire
  • 2009 – SF, lost 17-14 to Shaun Murphy
  • 2010 – WINNER, defeated Graeme Dott 18-13


  • 2007 – R32, lost 10-6 to Shaun Murphy

Season So Far

Having won this tournament for the first time a year ago it was always going to be interesting to see how Neil would perform during the following season and whether the weight of being world champion upon his shoulders might have been too tough to bear. Any such questions though were answered almost immediately as Neil won another title in Scotland, this time the World Open with a 5-1 victory against Ronnie O’Sullivan. He continued to impress with runs to the play-offs of the Premier League and the UK Championship quarter-finals and was rewarded with by rising to the top of the rankings for the first time in his career.

Since then though his results have not been spectacular, a second round loss to Mark Allen at the Masters preceding a difficult German Masters tournament which he nearly missed entirely due to a lost passport, eventually losing out in the first round to Anthony Hamilton once he did make it. A last 16 defeat to Graeme Dott in the Welsh Open followed before he lost out to Peter Ebdon at the same stage in China, curiously for those who like patterns, by the same 5-1 scoreline that he did a year ago leading up the Crucible…

Judd meanwhile has enjoyed a fabulous season, highlighted by last week’s triumph at the China Open as well as victory in the EPTC1 event in Furth during which he defeated the likes of Anthony Hamilton, Jack Lisowski and Shaun Murphy. As well as performing consistently during the PTC, eventually amassing 9,420 ranking points from the competition, Judd has also managed to qualify for all but one of the full ranking tournaments. While he struggled to progress further for much of the season with just a last 16 run at the UK Championships to show, he recently made his big breakthrough at the China Open, winning his first title with a 10-8 defeat of Mark Selby.

Why Neil Will Win

Coming into the tournament as defending champion, Neil Robertson now knows exactly what it takes to win in Sheffield and will surely draw on the inner self-belief that has characterised his rise to the top of the professional game. First-time champions do not always go well upon their return but the likes of Shaun Murphy and Ken Doherty have shown that it is possible, even if they haven’t gone all the way.

While his last few tournaments have been quiet by his standards, Neil’s game has generally been in pretty good shape. With a ranking win during each of the past five seasons, he is arguably one of the most consistent players on the tour and does not often lose in the first round, just three times during the last two seasons in fact.

This also applies to the Crucible where he has lost just one of his six last 32 matches so far, on his debut against Stephen Hendry. With his semi-final run in 2009 before last season’s remarkable success fresh in the mind, Neil will have good memories of the venue and might just be inspired by what happened 12 months ago. There is a chance that he could feel the nerves and the occasion, but over a longer match he should be able to handle those and find his best form.

What of his opponent Judd Trump? A week or two ago it already looked like a tasty clash but having seen the youngster win his first major title in China it suddenly looks like one of the ties of the round. What might be in Neil’s favour however is not only the fact that those who go deep in China do not tend to do well in Sheffield, but also the fact that the weight of expectation upon Judd’s shoulders will have just increased significantly. Whereas before he might have come into the match a little more under the radar, now everyone will be tipping the upset and expecting him to perform well. Both physically and mentally, will Neil gain any advantage from having an extra week to prepare for the World Championship? Possibly.

As far as the head to head is concerned I do not think that it is a particularly significant statistic in this match-up but it cannot do Neil any harm to have beaten him a couple of times recently. On paper their games are quite similar, both excellent long potters, both capable of scoring and both capable of playing good safety when required. The only significant difference is in their experience levels, particularly at the Crucible and this could prove crucial.

Why Judd Will Win

For Judd meanwhile he comes into the event on the back of by far the best week of his career which saw him produce some fabulous snooker to defeat a string of top players en route to his first maiden title. Up to 11th in the provisional rankings, just six places behind Neil, the match is arguably a closer one than it might appear on paper and on recent form, Judd’s results are more than comparable.

As he demonstrated last week, particularly against Peter Edbon, while he has always been a terrific potter, he has now developed a much stronger all-round game and is capable of competing with the very best in the safety department when required. He might still have a few things to learn but he has all the shots and on his day is capable of shocking anyone.

Arguably the most impressive thing about Judd’s performance in China however was his not his potting or his safety, but his temperament as the final entered its dramatic finale. Having seen Selby brilliantly draw level at 8-8, players far more experienced than Judd in that situation might have wilted but Judd did not show any signs of weakness, remaining positive with his shot selections, maintaining the same tempo around the table and eventually getting his reward for it.

What could also help him is strangely the fact that Neil does come into the event as defending champion. Not only will Neil be tasked with all of the responsibilities and interviews that come with being the defending champion but he would hardly be human if he were not to feel some nerves coming out into the arena on the opening morning to defend his title. It would not surprise me greatly to see him get off to a shaky start and if he does, it will all depend on whether Judd can take advantage.

Finally while Judd does trail the head to head, Neil’s wins have all come over a shorter format and so are arguably of little relevance here, while Judd’s win albeit not in a ranking event, was at least over a larger number of frames.

My Prediction

Nothing like starting with a tough one! I must admit that I can conceivably see this one going either way, indeed if Neil does how signs of nerves and Judd reproduces his Beijing form then he will take some stopping. That said though, over 19 frames there is more than enough time to shake of any nerves and with his greater experience, particularly at the Crucible, I have to back Neil to come through 10-8.

Jack’s View

For me this is easily the pick of the first round games. I am going to go with Judd as he is high on confidence and in beating Selby in the China Open final, he proved that his game is good enough to compete with anyone in the longer games. Having said that I think it will be very close!




Match Two: Marco Fu (16) vs Martin Gould (26)

For the second year in succession Marco Fu and Martin Gould will meet at the last 32 stage in Sheffield and as it was in 2010 year it is a tough one to call. Last year it was Martin who won their match 10-9 but with his opponent in better form than a year ago, the ever-improving Gould will have  to play better still if he is to come out on top again…

Head to Head

Prior to their meeting here last season these two had not met before but since Martin’s dramatic 10-9 win, their following two meetings have gone the way of the man from Hong Kong. Their first meeting this season came at the PTC4 event in Sheffield where Marco hit a 137 on the way to a 4-1 win, while breaks of 126 and 102 last week also helped him to a 3-0 victory during Group 7 of the Championship League. It should be pointed out there though that Martin had been involved in the final of the PTC event in Dublin immediately beforehand so can be forgiven for not quite being at his best. Still, Marco leads their head to head 2-1.

Crucible History


  • 1999 – R32, lost 10-8 to James Wattana
  • 2000 – R32, lost 10-4 to Anthony Hamilton
  • 2001 – R32 lost 10-8 to Chris Small
  • 2003 – QF, lost 13-7 to Stephen Lee
  • 2005 – R32, lost 10-4 to Ali Carter
  • 2006 – SF, lost 17-16 to Peter Ebdon
  • 2007 – R32, lost 10-3 to Anthony Hamilton
  • 2008 – R32, lost 10-9 to Ding Junhui
  • 2009 – R16, lost 13-3 to Shaun Murphy
  • 2010 – R32, lost 10-9 to Martin Gould


  • 2009 – R32, lost 10-6 to Mark Allen
  • 2010 – R16, lost 13-12 to Neil Robertson

Season So Far

Having struggled badly during the 2009/10 season, culminating in that defeat to Martin at the Crucible, Marco has enjoyed a better time of it in 2010/11. One of the players to benefit from the additional playing opportunities afforded by the new PTC, earning 7,800 ranking points and reaching two semi-finals. In the full ranking events though the start to his season was somewhat more low key, a 5-4 defeat to Mark Davis coming at the Shanghai Masters before he lost out 3-1 to Andrew Higginson at the World Open.

Improvement did come at the UK Championship as he reached the last 16 before losing heavily to Stuart Bingham but it was at the Masters when he was to really impress, victories over Stephen Maguire, Peter Ebdon and Mark Allen taking him to the final where he defeated by Ding Junhui. A run to the semi-finals of the German Masters followed shortly afterwards before he also won his Welsh Open qualifier to ensure that he would be seeded for the Crucible once again.

Like Marco, Martin also enjoyed a strong run in the PTC, notably reaching the final of the sixth event and coming within a whisker of winning it against Welshman Dominic Dale who staged an astonishing fight back in the deciding frame with snookers required. Still, Martin continued to break new ground by reaching his first ranking event quarter-final at the World Open before losing out to Peter Ebdon, whilst also successfully qualifying for both the Shanghai Masters and UK Championship tournaments.

What followed was something of a mid-season dip as he failed to qualify for either the German Masters or Welsh Open with defeats against Joe Swail and Jack Lisowski respectively. Since then though he has got himself back on track with wins against Mike Dunn and Robert Milkins to qualify for the remaining two events of the season, whilst also progressing through to the final of the PTC Grand Finals event before losing out to Shaun Murphy.

Why Marco Will Win

Having pushed Martin all the way last season having come into the event with very little form, in theory Marco playing the way that he has done more recently should come through. If only the game were that straightforward from Marco’s point of view! He has performed well during patches this season however, in particular at the Masters and the German Masters, as well as some of the earlier PTC events where his consistency was enough to earn him a place at the Grand Finals.

Despite the improvement however, Marco does come into this match needing to make at least the quarter-finals if he is to stand any chance of retaining his place inside the top 16. This added factor can always go either way but Marco’s supporters will be hoping that it provides him with the added incentive needed in order to avenge his defeat against Martin here last season.

That said, he has of course already done so twice this season, defeating Martin relatively comfortably on two occasions which is also in his favour.

Martin also of course returns to the scene of his heartbreaking loss to Neil Robertson last season having of course led 11-5 before eventually going down in a decider to the eventual winner. Indeed that has not been the only close defeat that Martin has suffered in the last year, also losing the PTC6 final to Dominic Dale in agonising circumstances as well as losing out to Ricky Walden in a tight match in China recently. Is this a weakness for Martin or just part of the learning process at the highest level in the game? Marco will be hoping that it is the former and that he will be able to take advantage should the match go close.

And looking back to that clash with Robertson, Martin will be on the same side of the curtain as during that infamous match and so could he be affected by returning to the scene of the crime so to speak?

Why Martin Will Win

Coming into the event following another positive season during which he has reached his first ranking event final and put himself in contention for a top 16 spot in the process, Martin looks as confident around the table as any player out there at the moment and having defeated Marco here last year, will have no fear when taking him on this time around.

While Marco’s form has been better this time around, so has Martin’ s to the extent that he is currently sitting one place above the Masters finalist in the provisional rankings. Having had a couple of weeks to recover from a busy fortnight which saw him involved at the World Championship qualifiers, PTC Finals, Championship League and China Open, Martin should be recharged and ready to make one last push this season.

Another thing Martin’s favour for me is the fact that Marco’s record at the Crucible is surprisingly suspect for a player as good as he is, the man from Hong Kong having lost at the last 32 stage on seven of his ten appearances now. While he is a former semi-finalist and not to be dismissed, this is an unusually high percentage and is indicative of a real weakness here.

As far as their head to head is concerned, Martin might trail overall but he did win the one that mattered and in the process proved to himself that he can win matches at the Crucible. While Marco might have the edge in the safety department and arguably possess the stronger temperament, if Martin can pot like he did during the first two sessions against Neil Robertson last season, then he will really take some stopping.

As far as Robertson is concerned, those two could potentially meet in the last 16 for a second successive year and I can only imagine that Martin will be relishing the chance to set the record straight. Could the prospect of a re-match spur him on even further against Marco?

My Prediction

Regular readers will know that I do not tend to tip many upsets when I make predictions but on this occasion I do feel that Martin will have the edge here and come through against his more experienced opponent. If Marco is to win it will probably by 10-9, but I am going to tip the qualifier to come through 10-6.

Jack’s View

I am going with Martin Gould, I love the way that he plays.




Match Three: Graeme Dott (9) v Mark King (19)

Hoping to go one better than in 2010, Graeme Dott returns for another crack at winning his second world title but faces a tough opener against Mark King, an opponent who has suddenly found his scoring boots this season…

Head to Head

On the face of it, Graeme would appear to have a significant head to head advantage against Mark, leading 4-1 following their five ranking event meetings. Delving deeper into their history however, it is clear that there has rarely been much to separate the two, dating back to their first match back at the 1996 Welsh Open when Graeme came through a 5-3 winner. Graeme was also to win their second match, this time 5-4 at the Irish Open three years later before Mark then broke his duck with a 6-2 win at the quarter-final stage of the Irish Masters in 2004.

Their fourth meeting actually came at the Crucible back in 2004 in another match which was to go the distance as Graeme came through 10-9 en route to his first World Championship final. Following that match it was to be another six years before the two were to meet when again Graeme came out on top in a decider, this time 4-3 at the PTC6 event in Sheffield last year.


  • 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
  • 2009 – R16, lost 13-10 to Mark Selby
  • 2010 – F, lost 18-13 to Neil Robertson


  • 1994 – R32, lost 10-5 to Darren Morgan
  • 1998 – R16, lost 13-9 to Matthew Stevens
  • 1999 – R16, lost 13-4 to John Higgins
  • 2000 – R32, lost 10-8 to Drew Henry
  • 2001 – R16, lost 13-5 to Patrick Wallace
  • 2002 – R16, lost 13-12 to Ken Doherty
  • 2003 – R32, lost 10-5 to Drew Henry
  • 2004 – R32, lost 10-9 to Graeme Dott
  • 2006 – R32, lost 10-6 to Stephen Maguire
  • 2008 – R16, lost 13-9 to Peter Ebdon
  • 2009 – R16, lost 13-6 to Stephen Maguire
  • 2010 – R32, lost 10-9 to Steve Davis

Season So Far

While not setting the world alight during the PTC events, a semi-final in the EPTC5 event marking his best performance, Graeme has enjoyed another solid season, consolidating his position safely inside the top 16 and setting himself up nicely to challenge for a top 8 spot early next season. His best performance in the full ranking events has thus far been his run to the semi-finals of the German Masters where he defeated Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon, Anthony Hamilton and Stephen Maguire before losing out 6-4 to Mark Selby. Other notable runs were his quarter-final appearances in Shanghai and in Newport, while his only opening round loss came at the World Open when he was unfortunate to be paired with Neil Robertson from the off.

For Mark meanwhile it has been a mixed season as while he did reach the quarter-finals of the Shanghai Masters with victories against Joe Delaney and Peter Ebdon, early exits from the World Open, UK Championship, German Masters and China Open tournaments have seen his ranking slip provisionally to 26th at the time of writing. That said the season has not been without its highs, notably an impressive victory at the Wembley Masters against defending champion Mark Selby while his scoring has been markedly improved in comparison with recent seasons.

Why Graeme Will Win

Despite his recent loss to Li Hang in China, it has been another strong season for the 2006 champion and returning to his favourite venue following his run to the final last year, he is many people’s outside bet to do so again in 2011. Clearly comfortable at the venue and with the longer formats, if he can reproduce the positive, attacking style that he brought to the venue a year ago then it will take one of the game’s elite players to stop him.

Graeme is not necessarily renowned for his scoring but with 16 century breaks under his belt already this season, is no slouch in the break building department. To me despite Mark’s improvement in this area, I think that Graeme does hold an advantage here and with both strong tactically, this could make the difference.

While Graeme has not made it to a final so far this season, generally speaking it has taken strong performances from some of the game’s strongest players to beat him so far this term. Losing to John Higgins once, Neil Robertson once, Mark Selby twice and Ding Junhui at the Masters, it could be argued that it is likely that it will take a stronger opponent than Mark to defeat Graeme over a best of 19 match.

It is also arguable that Graeme has the stronger temperament of the two, as demonstrated here in the past during several close matches which he has come through to win, not least during his final run last year. This could also prove an important factor should the match go close, a view supported by their head to head record.

Finally, Mark has won here on just two occasions in the past as a qualifier, supporting the view that when he comes up against the very best players over the longer formats, he is sometimes found wanting.

Why Mark Will Win

Coming to the Crucible for the 13th time, Mark King is certainly experienced enough at the venue and is no stranger to causing a shock result, remember his last 32 win against Mark Selby back in 2008 anyone? While some of the younger players might be more spectacular potters, Mark can count on the fact that he should not freeze and knows how to win matches at the venue.

While not necessarily a reason while Mark will win, his previous matches against Graeme as outlined above have generally been very close and he could quite easily be 4-1 ahead, rather than behind. Graeme is certainly a better player than he was when they last met here back in 2004 but despite not having run particularly deep into any tournaments this season, I would suggest that Mark is too.

In particular Mark’s scoring has been improved and while I do not know how many centuries he has made this season, from the outside it feels like it has been more than usual and could well keep Graeme honest. Like his opponent he is also a real fighter and a tough match player to come up against in the first round so could catch Graeme cold if he cannot find his A-game.

My Prediction

Having written Mark off against Mark Selby back in 2008 I will not make the same mistake twice but on the face of it Graeme has to start as favourite for this one due to his greater credentials at the venue and the way he has played during the last 18 months or so. I do not think it will be easy though and will go for a tight 10-8 scoreline.

Jack’s View

Graeme Dott always raises his game at the World Championships, so for that reason, I think that he will win.




Match Four: Ali Carter (8) vs Dave Harold (45)

The final match in this section sees 2008 Crucible runner-up Ali Carter square off against Dave Harold who returns to the Crucible for the first time in three years, hoping to make amends for a heavy defeat to Shaun Murphy on that occasion…

Head to Head

The first of five meetings between these two came back in 2002/3 as Ali won a tight last 16 contest at the Regal Scottish Open 5-4. Dave though soon turned things around by taking a 5-2 victory at Pontin’s during qualifying for the 2006 China Open before storming to a 4-0 win during the 2008 Championship League with breaks of 143, 133 and 120!

Ali though has improved since then and won their last two meetings, both at the last 32 stage of ranking events. The first came at the 2008 Grand Prix when Dave again pushed him to a decider while they also met in Shanghai earlier this season, Carter winning 5-3 on his way to the title. As a result he leads their match-up 3-2.

Crucible History


  • 2003 – R32 lost 10-5 to Paul Hunter
  • 2004 – R32 lost 10-7 to David Gray
  • 2005 – R16, lost 13-7 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 2006 – R32, lost 10-8 to Stephen Lee
  • 2007 – QF, lost 13-12 to Mark Selby
  • 2008 – F, lost 18-8 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 2009 – R16, lost 13-8 to Neil Robertson
  • 2010 – SF, lost 17-12 to Neil Robertson


  • 1994 – R16, lost 13-2 to Stephen Hendry
  • 1995 – R32, lost 10-3 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 1996 – QF, lost 13-7 to Nigel Bond
  • 1997 – R32, lost 10-7 to Lee Walker
  • 1998 – R32, lost 10-8 to Anthony Hamilton
  • 2000 – R32, lost 10-8 to John Higgins
  • 2001 – R16, lost 13-6 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 2002 – R32, lost 10-6 to Anthony Hamilton
  • 2006 – R32, lost 10-4 to Ronnie O’Sullivan
  • 2008 – R32, lost 10-3 to Shaun Murphy

Season So Far

Ali started 2010/11 in perfect style with victory in the season-opening Shanghai Masters tournament, defeating Jamie Burnett 10-7 in the final but after that struggled to run deep in tournaments until last month’s Welsh Open. There he defeated Ding Junhui, Peter Ebdon and Barry Hawkins before coming up against an irrepressible John Higgins who ended his Newport run for the second successive season. He followed this up with a run to the quarter-finals in Beiing only to come up against an unstoppable Mark Selby. Tough school!

For Dave meanwhile, the season has been a considerable improvement upon 2009/10 when he was able to win just one match. Indeed this time around Dave has qualified for four of the season’s seven venues, losing his opening match on just two occasions in qualifying for the UK Championship and China Open events. The highlight of his season (other than qualifying for this tournament with wins against Jamie Jones and Gerard Greene), probably came at the World Open where he defeated former world champion Shaun Murphy 3-0 in Glasgow.

Why Ali Will Win

Having struggled to make an impact in Sheffield early on in his career, Ali has certainly looked a lot more confident at the venue during the last three or four years and has clearly improved as a player both mentally and technically. It is to his credit that while his name does not necessarily spring to my mind when asked for a predicted winner, he is often there and thereabouts at the latter stages of events and loses few early matches, just four during the last three seasons in fact.

Indeed I think the fact that Ali has a relatively low profile compared to some of the other top eight players is something that is a definite advantage, allowing him to fly under the radar somewhat and quietly progress to the latter stages of events. His season so far has been a good one and having only lost out to two excellent performances from John Higgins and Mark Selby at the last two events, he clearly comes into the event in decent form.

In his early days I used to think that Ali was one of the weaker players mentally but during the past few seasons he has certainly put that one to bed, his 9-8 victory against Mark Williams in Telford a couple of years ago springing to mind as well as his 13-12 win against Shaun Murphy at the Crucible last year. Not to mention his breakthrough at the 2008 World Championship where he made his first 147 on his way to the final.

Looking at their head to head, while he does not hold a decisive advantage, it cannot do him any harm to have beaten Dave earlier this season on the way to the Shanghai Masters title. While Dave is an excellent match player, it has been a long time since he has defeated an opponent as strong as Carter at the Crucible, indeed I would argue that he has not done so since 1996 when he defeated John Parrott in the first round which suggests that it might be a match too far for him…

Why Dave Will Win

Having won just one match during the previous season, he has enjoyed a much better time of it recently and will come into this match with wins against the likes of Shaun Murphy and Ricky Walden under his belt this term.

On of the more experienced players at the Crucible, Dave knows what it is all about and if Ali is feeling any pressure, he could just be able to take advantage. I remember watching him take on Ronnie O’Sullivan at the same stage back in 2006 and while Ronnie played great and won comfortably, Dave himself did not embarrass himself and would have pushed many players all the way that day.

Having said that Ali comes into the event under less pressure from the outside than perhaps some other players, there will nevertheless be pressure from within and now aged 31, it could be argued that he is running out of opportunities to win this tournament while at the peak of his powers. Could this lead to a below par performance and surprise exit for the Captain?

My Prediction

Without wanting to underestimate Dave, as you can probably guess judging by the length of my respective arguments above, I would be surprised to see Ali slip up here and will tip him to come through 10-5. Overall I just feel that he will have too much fire-power in the break building department for his gritty opponent.

Jack’s View

I fancy Ali Carter to win this one and I think he will have a good tournament.

Check back for Part Two soon…