It is the Grand National, the London Marathon, the Ironman Triathlon of snooker: a gruelling two-week contest that requires the champion to win some 71 frames to claim the sport’s ultimate glory. But this is the World Championship, and it is not for the faint of heart.
Held at the iconic Crucible Theatre, 32 of the world’s best players will chalk up their cues in the pursuit of the £330,000 prize, the famous trophy but most importantly of all the right to be called World Champion.
Here’s a quick rundown of this year’s main contenders:
Ronnie O’Sullivan (7/4)
The fact that ‘The Rocket’ is this short a price for a tournament that comprises 32 players and more than a fortnight’s worth of action is what poker players would describe as a ‘great tell.’ Quite frankly, he is the best that has ever played the game.
A five-time world champion and sixteen-time major event winner, there is little else to say about O’Sullivan other than the fact that if he is in mentally the right place to win, then he generally does.
But it’s a big if, and a two-year stretch without lifting the famous triangular trophy at the Crucible suggests a hint of fragility. However, a comfortable triumph at this year’s Masters – the third ‘unofficial’ major of the snooker calendar – can quell any doubts that he is ‘past it’ or ‘finished’.
Ronnie is his own man and does things in his own inimitable style; that’s why he has accepted invitations to play in just four tournaments this season. He decided to lessen his schedule some time in 2013 – and since then he has won just one of three World Championships entered. Perhaps there is a question of ring rustiness then, and with the standard of snooker improving all the time maybe The Rocket is in danger of taking things too lightly.
We’re happy to oppose him then – we have to at this price – although we do so with trepidation. Snooker is Ronnie’s world, and all the other players just live in it.
Neil Robertson (6/1)
Few players on the tour possess a determination and a will to win quite as fierce as Robertson, and those are two traits that will stand him in great stead heading into the gruelling fortnight ahead.
The Aussie has won everything there is in the game including four majors, and his triumph in the UK Championship earlier this year was a battle of wills against an unlikely foe in Liang Wenbo. However, Robertson had beaten Selby, John Higgins and Stephen Maguire up until that point, so nobody could accuse him of having it easy.
He hasn’t made a final at the Crucible since 2010, but your write Neil Robertson off at your peril.
Judd Trump (7/1)
It has felt like some snooker prophecy that one day Judd Trump would become world champion, and you could argue that this is his best opportunity yet at getting his hands on the big one.
A former world finalist and a young man blessed with prodigious talent, Trump looked like he might be one of the game’s great underachievers until about a year or so ago, when he kicked his ‘exotic’ nocturnal activities to the kerb and focused his energies on becoming a more consistent player.
It proved a wise decision, as the left hander has claimed four ranking event wins in the past calendar year, including the recent China Open – which is usually such a good indicator of form heading into the Crucible.
With two semi-final appearances in his last three attempts, there is a feeling that Trump can go at least one better this time around.
Mark Selby (10/1)
These are slightly worrying times for Mark Selby fans: in each of his last eight seasons, the Jester From Leicester has won or at least reached the final of at least one ranking event. This term he has just two semi-finals to his name.
He also pulled out of the two most recent ranking events – the Players’ Championship and the China Open – too, citing ‘personal reasons’. That does not bode well.
It’s a shame, as the 32-year-old is a fearsome competitor on his day and, of course, a former world champion. But there are enough question marks against his name to disregard Selby at the moment.
Shaun Murphy (12/1)
It would have been very easy to write off Shaun Murphy until around March time. Up until that point, he hadn’t progressed past the fourth round in a tournament in 2015/16 – hardly the form of a world champion in waiting.
But a victory in the World Grand Prix, in which he saw off the hopes of five players al ranked in the world’s top 20, suggests he is somewhere near his best at just the right time.
With a fine record at the Crucible that includes one championship win and two other finals in the past decade, ‘The Magician’ could be one to watch out for this week.
Each Way Chance
Barry Hawkins (50/1)
Any players whose return from his last three visits to the Crucible reads finalist-semi finalist-semi finalist has to be respected. The bookies find it easy to oppose Hawkins because he never seems to do anything of note in the ‘lesser’ ranking events, but by does he turn it on at The Crucible.
Happily there’s a bit of form in the old Hawkins locker this season – a semi-finalist appearance at the Players’ Championship backed by a run to the final in The Masters – and this makes a mockery of his 50/1 price.