World Snooker Championship semi-finals preview and free betting tips

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We are at the semi-finals stage of the Betfred World Snooker Championship - read Richard Mann's preview of the action.

Recommended bets: World Championship

1pt seven centuries in Gary Wilson v Judd Trump match at 13/2

1pt eight centuries in Gary Wilson v Judd Trump match at 10/1

After 12 days of high drama at the Crucible Theatre, some incredible shocks and thrilling comebacks, four men are left standing in the Betfred World Championship with the biggest prize in snooker now within touching distance.

Ronnie O'Sullivan has long since made for the exit door, his first-round defeat at the hands of amateur James Cahill dramatically sparking the tournament into life after a serene beginning that always felt too calm to last.

Mark Selby was another early casualty, though he did make it to round two before former Wallsend taxi driver Gary Wilson sent him home with the kind of cool and calculated display that would take him to the semi-finals and earn the biggest payday of his career.

There he will meet current Masters champion Judd Trump, who booked his place in the last four with a dominant defeat of Stephen Maguire having produced nerveless comebacks to beat both Ding Junhui and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh earlier in the competition.

But for cruel run of the balls, we might well be talking about Thepchaiya closing in on a first world title but Trump looks to be peaking just at the right time and is now odds-on favourite to atone for his defeat to John Higgins in the final here back in 2011.

As for Higgins, he continues to amaze and despite arriving in Sheffield on the back of one of the worst seasons of his career, he will face David Gilbert in his 10th Crucible semi-final having defied both the odds and the doubters to beat Neil Robertson 13-10 in a hard-fought quarter-final encounter.

By his own admission, Higgins still wasn't at his best but like all great sportsmen, he continues to find a way and he managed to put Robertson out of his stride in a way few others have been able to do this year.

Four consecutive ranking finals for Robertson and victory at the recent China Open meant the Australian had appeared the man to beat after O'Sullivan crashed out, but Higgins had other ideas and a fifth world title would be all the sweeter for him having had to stomach heartbreaking defeats in the last two World Championship finals, first to Mark Selby in 2017 and then Mark Williams 12 months ago.

John Higgins

Standing in the way of a third consecutive final for Higgins is Gilbert, a markedly-improved operator who really should have claimed his first ranking title in Germany earlier in the season when playing some terrific snooker to lead Kyren Wilson in the final of the German Masters before wilting just a little once the winning line came in sight.

He looks a different animal now, however, a comfortable quarter-final defeat of Wilson yesterday tells us as much, but the one-table set up at the Crucible Theatre is something he hasn't experienced before, and he's also never faced the ultimate match player in Higgins over four sessions.

The task facing Gilbert is a tough one but the younger man is on a steep upward curve at present and as was the case in the last two years, he will be banking on Higgins tiring towards the end of the gruelling 17-day Crucible marathon.

That certainly looked to be the case when the 43-year-old squandered a 10-4 lead over Selby in 2017 and the brilliant snooker he produced to beat Trump in the quarter-finals 12 months ago was only replicated in patches when he could never quite get to grips with Williams in their memorable final a few days later.

A lopsided schedule has meant that Higgins has already had to endure a heavy workload in the second week of the tournament - three tough matches haven't helped, either - but a forgettable campaign thus far means he arrived in Sheffield a fresh and hungry animal and I suspect he will fancy his chances from here.

Make no mistake, Gilbert has the form and class to push Higgins all the way - the Scot said as much in his post-match interview last night - but Higgins' greater experience, particularly at this event, should stand him in good stead against a man who will surely feel the pressure at some stage of a match that is easily the biggest of his career.

David Gilbert

In O'Sullivan's absence, the prospect of a Higgins versus Trump final is the one Eurosport and the BBC will be pinning their hopes to and were that to be the case, don't expect the veteran to take a backwards step against an opponent whose brilliant long potting and break-building can put the fear into the most battle-hardened of warriors. Just ask O'Sullivan, who had no answers to the Trump onslaught in the Masters final.

Nevertheless, Higgins has plenty of happy memories of playing Trump, not least in Sheffield in the 2011 final and again last year, and even in the midst of a disappointing season this term, he has enjoyed victories over Trump at the China Championship and the Championship League.

In fact, you have to go back to the quarter-finals of the English Open in 2016 for Trump's last victory over Higgins, with the latter winning each of the nine subsequent meetings between the two.

For all Trump's much-improved safety game now gives him more tools to handle Higgins' rock-solid all-round game, the suspicion remains that the latter might still have his number, particularly over two days of snooker.

As stated, fatigue now stands as the biggest concern for Higgins supporters, of whom I am one having made him the only bet at 22/1 in my outright preview here before the tournament began.

However, with Trump now as short as 8/11 to the lift the title, I have no interest in covering my stake at those prices and with each-way insurance on Higgins, let's hope that he has enough left in the tank to reach the final and guarantee a healthy profit regardless of the outcome.

Such calculations might all prove academic as Trump faces a tough semi-final himself against Wilson, a heavy-scorer who O'Sullivan described earlier this week as being 'very streaky' and capable of reeling off big breaks in quick succession.

With a perfectly serviceable safety game also in Wilson's armoury, Trump's long potting, which hasn't been quite at its brilliant best in Sheffield so far, will need to be on point while he can expect a real scrap from his tough and gutsy opponent.

While Wilson's unflappable temperament has won him many plaudits, his scoring has been the most impressive facet of his game to my eye, particularly in the big moments of his matches, and four centuries against Ali Carter in their last-eight clash certainly sent out a strong message that he will score heavily if given the chance.

With Trump's own break-building needing little introduction and seemingly coming to the boil nicely - he made three breaks of 100-plus in the last round - I'm keen to go high on the match centuries market in this one.

Sky Bet go 9/2 for six match centuries but I'm not sure seven or even eight is out of the question in this best-of-33-frames encounter and backing both to split stakes at 13/2 and 10/1 will do for me.

Wilson knows he will need something special for this fairytale to continue and with Trump sure to come out all guns blazing, we could well be in for fireworks.

Posted at 1055 BST on 02/05/19

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