World Championship snooker free betting preview, match-by-match tips, TV Coverage, schedule and odds

John Higgins

The second round of the World Championship begins on Wednesday with John Higgins in action at the Crucible - get our verdict here.

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John Higgins v Kurt Maflin

Four centuries including that failed 147 bid and subsequent middle-finger salute mark down Kurt Maflin as one of the most impressive first-round winners. Granted, he only scraped through, but he was up against a Crucible semi-finalist who also played well in the shape of David Gilbert, and it could be an important victory when it comes to how his career develops as he has the talent to achieve plenty in the game.

The Norwegian is very highly regarded and has every shot in the manual, as displayed with a 10-1 thumping of Matt Selt to seal his second World Championship appearance. And while he's sometimes found wanting at the business-end, he'd previously beaten Joe O'Connor 6-5, while his Sheffield debut five years ago saw him take defending champion Mark Selby the distance in round one.

Throw in the fact that his sole previous meeting with John Higgins ended in a 3-0 win, and you can see where the bits and pieces of support has come from. He's now 100/30 in a place, 11/4 generally, and that's a mark of the impression he's created - and the way in which he's spoken about by commentators and pundits.

The trouble is, he's facing one of the greats of the game here and though Higgins wasn't quite at his best against Matthew Stevens, he did the job, and he'll likely do the job again. He spoke prior to that match about his practice sessions with fellow Scots and will have been pleased to see one of them, Anthony McGill, show some Higgins-like nous and see off Jack Lisowski on Monday.

No doubt come game-time here he'll be focused on the job he has to do and the extension of matches to best-of-25 tips the scales further in his favour. Maflin may well win the odd mini-session, but should he blast out of the blocks and take three of the first four or even six of the first nine, it may well pay to get with Higgins in-running. Expect him to ensure this match is played how he wants it to be played.

Higgins has lost three second-round matches to unseeded players, but two were Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry, and the other was Shaun Murphy en route to his 2005 victory. Maflin hasn't the nous of that trio and 45-year-old Higgins, who has won at least two matches here in each of the last four years, is considered banker material to progress.

Finding a bet isn't easy, but if you've fallen for Maflin's break-building talents, he's 7/5 to record the highest break or around evens to bag the first century of the match. Both look short enough to my eye, and I prefer the 11/2 offered by several firms on a century in the first frame. It happened in five of the 15 first-round matches and should've been six, Tom Ford missing black off the spot when on course for a maximum and instead settling for a break of 97.

That alone makes the price look big enough, without even considering the fact that Higgins has made 31 across the last three renewals including a dozen last year, and that Maflin is enjoying his most prolific year yet in terms of centuries to frames played. It's a small, speculative suggestion, but 11/2 about either man taking a chance in frame one is probably on the generous side.

Prediction: Higgins 13-9 Maflin

Mark Williams v Stuart Bingham

Two elder statesman of the game face off in a clash that really ought not to go under the radar.

Either side of a brilliant win at The Masters in January, Stuart Bingham hasn't been quite as good as in previous years - certainly in terms of results - but he remains a very fine operator who held off a spirited fightback form Ashley Carty in round one.

It seems fair to assume that he will need to improve again if he is to get past Mark Williams, winner here in 2018 when becoming world champion for a third time.

Williams is one of the greats but he has lost his way since that latest world title, certainly enjoying the moment and spending more time with a drink in his hand than a cue.

As his results predictably took a downward turn, talk of retirement once again resurfaced, but he has reaffirmed his commitment to the sport in recent days and Williams has professed to having worked hard on the practice table in preparation for the World Championship.

That might not have been in evidence in the first session of Williams' first-round encounter with Alan McManus but he was much sharper in the second session, reeling off six frames on the bounce to surge into the last 16.

The Welshman might just have turned a corner now and given his fine Crucible pedigree, I'm very surprised to see him priced up as second favourite.

Prediction: Williams 13-10 Bingham

Best bet: Mark Williams to beat Stuart Bingham at 1/1

Mark Selby v Noppon Saengkham

Judd Trump v Yan Bingtao

Barry Hawkins v Alexander Ursenbacher

This is one of the first-round ties that had the look of a potential banana skin.

Barry Hawkins is in the midst of one of his most disappointing seasons for quite some time, one in which he has openly admitted to suffering from a lack of confidence and having not worked hard enough on the practice table.

Whether Hawkins has used lockdown to put in the hours in practice remains to be seen but he won't be taking the talented and very dangerous Alexander Ursenbacher lightly.

Ursenbacher made the quarter-finals of the Northern Ireland Open earlier in the season to underline his capabilities and there is the very real possibility that the absence of a crowd at the Crucible this year could really help this free spirit who loves to play an attacking, open game.

Hawkins, on the other hand, has tended to revel in the pressure cooker that is usually the Crucible Theatre - making four semi-finals and a final here in a distinguished career - and he might feel one of his big advantages has been taken away from him this year.

Still, he can draw on many happy Crucible memories that could easily spark him back to life and it's those thoughts that temper any enthusiasm for taking a chance on Ursenbacher at 11/4.

Prediction: Hawkins 10-7 Ursenbacher

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Judd Trump v Tom Ford

As is tradition, defending champion Judd Trump will open the show by taking on Tom Ford on Friday.

Six ranking titles already this season, and now firmly established as world number one in the rankings, Trump returns to Sheffield as the 11/4 market leader despite looking a little out of sorts when last seen at the Tour Championship.

Still, a few weeks to hone his skills since should stand him in good stead and he will be need to be sharp against Ford, a dangerous opponent who can score as well as anyone when in the grove.

Ford was a semi-finalist at the 2018 UK Championship and last-four finishes at the English Open and World Grand Prix this term further demonstrate his capabilities.

I'm not expecting Trump to become the seventh first-time world champion to lose in the first round the following year but I don't think this will be plain sailing and just as was the case against Thepchaiya Un-Nooh last year, he might have to come through a tough opening workout.

Prediction: Trump 10-7 Ford

Stuart Bingham v Ashley Carty

For a man who became Masters champion as recently as January, it is strange to think that Stuart Bingham might view this season as something of a disappointment if he doesn't enjoy a deep run in Sheffield.

The Masters aside, the best Bingham has managed this term was a quarter-final finish at the World Open way back in November and for a player of his pedigree, that's really isn't good enough.

It's not that Bingham has played badly. In fact, his scoring has remained typically heavy, but he hasn't had enough good results to show for it and will be desperate to bounce back over the next few weeks at a venue which gave him his greatest moment in the sport when being crowned world champion in 2015.

Bingham will kick off his bid for a second Crucible crown against Ashley Carty on Friday, the latter having qualified for the World Championship for the very first time by beating Robert Milkins 10-8 in qualifying.

Carty is a tenacious character who will leave everything out on the table but this is a stiff ask on his Crucible debut and I'd expect Bingham to prove too strong and win with something to spare.

Prediction: Bingham 10-5 Carty

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Kyren Wilson v Anthony Hamilton

Hamilton has withdrawn from the tournament; Wilson receives bye to round two

Anthony Hamilton will be making his first Crucible appearance since 2008 when he faces Kyren Wilson on round one, though celebrations have been dampened somewhat by his own fears about the return of crowds for this event.

Nevertheless, Hamilton played really well to beat a solid yardstick in Scott Donaldson to book his place in the first round and this former German Masters winner remains a real handful when on song.

He should keep Kyren Wilson honest but the latter has looked right at home in five visits to the Crucible so far, reaching the quarter-finals on three occasions and making the last four in 2018.

Having started to find his best form prior to the coronavirus lockdown, I expect Wilson to be a big threat to all in Sheffield once again and fancy him to begin with a convincing opening win.

Prediction: Wilson 10-6 Hamilton

Ding Junhui v Mark King

Following a disappointing spell in the doldrums, Ding Junhui roared back to his best by claiming a third UK Championship title in York in December.

It was Ding at his best; relentless, heavy scoring made possible by typically pinpoint cue-ball control as he brushed aside the likes of Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Maguire with such ease that he seemed sure to enjoy a strong second half of the season.

Nevertheless, he has been quiet since and opting to miss the recent Tour Championship amid the coronavirus pandemic means he heads to Sheffield even harder to assess than usual.

Mark King, on the other hand, came through tough matches against Ken Doherty and Ian Burns to book his place at the Crucible and this experienced campaigner might just be capable of springing a surprise if Ding isn't on his mettle.

For those looking for a potential first-round banana skin, this match might well be the one to provide it.

Prediction: Ding 8-10 King

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Mark Williams v Alan McManus

It seems like an age since Mark Williams shocked the snooker world by winning his third world title in the spring of 2018 but his form since has taken a dramatic downturn.

It was hardly surprising given Williams made no secret of his desire to enjoy that 2018 win to the fullest and talk of retirement has once again resurfaced following a host of modest results this season.

Nevertheless, a run to the final of the China Championship in September and more recently, the semi-finals of the Gibraltar Open, demonstrate he remains a top-class performer on his day.

Reports that Williams has been working hard on the practice table in recent weeks should encourage his supporters but Alan McManus, another elder statesman of the game, played really well in qualifying to ensure he booked his place at the Crucible for the first time since 2016.

McManus went on to reach to last four that year and this will be no easy starter for Williams.

Prediction: Williams 10-8 McManus

David Gilbert v Kurf Maflin

David Gilbert was one of the great stories of last year's World Championship, enjoying a brilliant run to the semi-finals before agonisingly losing out to John Higgins in heartbreaking fashion at the end of a pulsating semi-final.

His wait for a maiden ranking-title success still goes on but in reaching the English Open final earlier this term, he proved he is close and he will be desperate to do well on his return to Sheffield.

A fantastic breakbuilder when on song, his effortless scoring paved the way for his dream run last year and I'd expect more of the same this time around, particularly if the pockets are as generous as they looked in Friday's matches.

Up against Gilbert is the hugely talented Kurt Maflin who, like his opponent, is at his best when playing an attacking game and relying on his potting and breakbuilding.

Maflin impressed in qualifying and I'd expect him and Gilbert to put on a show in this one. Take the 9/4 Sky Bet offer for there to be four on more centuries in the match.

Prediction: Gilbert 10-7 Maflin

Best bet: Four or more centuries in the match at 9/4

John Higgins v Matthew Stevens

John Higgins will begin his bid for a fifth world title when he takes on Matthew Stevens this weekend.

Higgins will go down as one of the greats of the game but should he not get his hands on the World Championship trophy again before he hangs up his cue, he will surely look back with some regret having been a beaten finalist in Sheffield in each of the last three years.

John Higgins weighs up a shot at the Crucible

Higgins remains a very fine operator who has been knocking on the door all season without quite finding his brilliant best, and back at his favourite venue and in his favourite event, he must be afforded the utmost respect.

Stevens has never been crowned world champion, despite making the final in 2000 and 2005, but he remains a classy performer himself and won't be disgraced here, for all he might come up short.

Prediction: Higgins 10-7 Stevens

Yan Bingtao v Elliot Slessor

Elliot Slessor is probably best known for his impressive record against Ronnie O'Sullivan and his last-eight finish at this season's German Masters shows just what he is capable of.

Having impressed in qualifying, he will be hopeful of springing a surprise or two at the Crucible, for all he faces a particularly tough opening match again Yan Bingtao.

Bingtao was still a teenager when he won his first ranking title - the Riga Masters - way back last summer and he has continued to go from strength to strength thereafter.

Three semi-final finishes, including at the UK Championship, as well as reaching the final of the Players Championship, underline his growing stature in the game and there should be plenty more to come.

A fine all-round player, with an impressive tactical game for one so young, he should enjoy the demands of this event and will surely make a winning start.

Prediction: Bingtao 10-6 Slessor

Neil Robertson v Liang Wenbo

It's 12 years now since Liang became the first Chinese player to reach the quarter-finals here, doing so on debut after a controversial victory over Joe Swail in the second round.

It's not the only time he's made headlines in Sheffield, as back in 2018 he bagged a 147 in qualifying and was one pot away from another two frames later, only to miss a tricky black off its spot.

He's got talent, all right, and he's both won the English Open and for a long time based himself in England, so he's the sort of player who represents a slightly worrying draw for any seeded player in the first round here.

Indeed, he lost 13-12 to Ding in round two on his last visit to the Crucible, and prior to that took Trump almost the distance in a 10-8 defeat.

Robertson knows he needs to do better having failed to reach the one-table set-up here since 2014.

Nick Metcalfe speaks to Neil Robertson

I do like the fact he's had a break following that golden run which saw him reach three finals in succession at the beginning of the year, but the news that there will not be an audience is troubling - he told us he felt the Tour Championship was like paid practice and will need to have adjusted.

Still, Liang had to work mighty hard to beat Fergal O'Brien 10-9 in qualifying, and for all his record against Robertson isn't bad, their one Triple Crown meeting ended in a 10-5 victory for the Australian.

Something like that should be expected, perhaps one more frame for the Chinese, and the favourite should have no excuses.

For a bet, consider over 2.5 centuries at 8/13 or over 3.5 at odds-against.

These two seem to bring out the best in each other, evidenced by three centuries in each of their last three meetings at an average of one every 3.2 frames. Indeed, Robertson bagged a 147 in that UK Championship meeting and as for Liang, he completed his comeback against O'Brien with a superb 141 clearance.

Prediction: Robertson 10-6 Liang

Ronnie O'Sullivan v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh

Without question the tie of the round and the sort of match which, should it deliver what it promises, could make anyone fall in love with this sport.

O'Sullivan says Un-Nooh is one of those players he doesn't mind losing to and whether you believe him or not, there's a reason for it: the Thai plays the game like O'Sullivan himself, gliding round the table and wasting not one second over a shot.

The results can be spectacular - see that infamous missed 147 attempt and his Shoot Out success - and there was much to like about the way he qualified, including two centuries and a further five frame-winning breaks against the capable Liam Highfield earlier this week.

The trouble is he does need those single-visit contributions to win frames and indeed matches, which is why for all his talent I'm not sure anyone sees him as a world champion in the making.

Still, it's been a largely excellent year and there's certainly a risk factor here for Ronnie, who has started to show signs that he's slowing down. Indeed, much here will depend on whether playing Thepchaiya brings out his best or his worst; his safety game is his big advantage, perversely, and just how serious he is about winning may well be revealed before the mid-session interval - not just the match, but the tournament itself.

My colleague Chris Hammer makes the case for this to be the first-round match which produces the most centuries, and that's a route many will go down. I, however, have come to the conclusion, largely on instinct, that O'Sullivan will be primed to send a message, especially if the absence of spectators does make him feel more at ease.

Thepchaiya has played well in both first-round exits at the Crucible - indeed he was dreadfully unlucky not to beat Trump last April in a defeat which changed the course of snooker history - but my suspicion is he could be in for a hiding.

There's not a great deal to base it on, so the message is hold your bets, and instead focus on the essence of this game: it will be played at pace, with grace, and is sure to deliver something spectacular one way or another.

Prediction: O'Sullivan 10-3 Un-Nooh

Jack Lisowski v Anthony McGill

As natural talents go, you'd struggle to find too many better than Jack Lisowski and when in full flight, he really is a sight to behold.

Nevertheless, his wait for that first ranking-title still goes on and he returns to Sheffield on the back of a frustrating season, a run to the final of the Scottish Open notwithstanding.

An all-action player who pots for fun and has a wonderful touch in the balls, Lisowski's safety game still has room for improvement and he has yet to produce his best in three previous visits to the Crucible.

His first-round opponent this year is Anthony McGill, a former Indian Open winner and an established member of the top 16 until more recently when he has found results harder to come by.

Like Liswoski, he has struggled for his best again this term but was one of the most impressive players on show in qualifying and certainly knows his way around the table.

Like many have done before, he will be well aware that dragging Lisowski into a dog fight might afford him the best chance of victory.

Prediction: Lisowski 8-10 McGill

Shaun Murphy v Noppon Saengkham

It was way back in 2005 when qualifier Shaun Murphy was crowned world champion and 15 years on, he will be hopeful of tasting Crucible success for the second time.

Murphy has made the final twice since 2005 and would appear to have plenty going for him this year on the back of a strong campaign which has included wins at the China Championship and Welsh Open.

Along with those victories, Murphy has continued to make his mark all season as his much-improved tactical play compliments his wonderful long game and heavy scoring.

His opponent on Monday, Noppon Saengkham, is a useful operator in his own right but having made the semi-finals of the World Open last term, has been unable to maintain his progression this time around.

Still, Saengkham secured his second Crucible appearance on merit and should ensure Murphy at least enjoys a good opening workout.

Prediction: Murphy 10-6 Saengkham

Mark Selby v Jordan Brown

From 2014 to 2017 Mark Selby was the undisputed king of the Crucible as he rose to the summit of the world rankings and swept aside all before him in Sheffield.

However, he has failed to get anywhere close to reaching those heights in the last two years as inconsistency has crept into his previously rock-solid game and seen him struggle to impact in more recent Triple Crown events.

It hasn't all been doom and gloom, though, and Selby was brilliant in winning the English and Scottish Opens earlier in the season; scoring heavily and looking to retain all the hunger that drove him to become the best player on the planet not so long ago.

There is no doubting that he is still capable of beating the best when on song but he has become harder to predict nowadays and it is worth noting that even when in his pomp, the first round has often been his hardest match of the World Championship.

Selby has actually been beaten four times in the first round at the Crucible already and he looks worth taking on again this year, at least in the handicap markets.

He faces a Crucible debutant in Jordan Brown who comes with a glowing reputation and with the respect of some good judges who know his game well.

Brown looked a smart prospect when coming through qualifying and with the prospect of no crowd making the daunting Crucible Theatre slightly less intimidating than usual this year, there is certainly an angle in thinking Brown can at least give a good account of himself.

Another slow start from Selby would certainly help and the 6/5 on offer from Sky Bet about Brown to cover the handicap (+4.5) looks worth a bet.

Mark Allen v Jamie Clarke

It's remarkable to think that despite growing into one of the leading players in the world, Mark Allen's Crucible best remains his run to the semi-finals in 2009.

Allen has become a Triple crown winner since, claiming Masters glory in 2018 before reaching the final of the UK Championship later that year, and another deep run in Sheffield can't be far away.

He certainly has all the tools to do well here; a superb long game, a wonderful touch in the balls, and a clever safety game that can match the very best in the sport nowadays.

Following a promising return to form when reaching the final of the recent Tour Championship, the signs are there that Allen could be coming to the boil just in time for the big one and Jamie Clarke could be in for a baptism of fire.

Clarke beat the likes of Joe Perry and Akani Songsermsawad in qualifying so he is clearly very capable on his day but he could have hardly asked for a tougher Crucible debut and expect him to find his Northern Irish opponent too streetwise over this two-session encounter.

Prediction: Allen 10-6 Clarke

Stephen Maguire v Martin Gould

In years gone by we might have been left wondering which Stephen Maguire would turn up in Sheffield.

For someone so gifted, he hasn't always been the most reliable but an improved work ethic and a growing maturity has seen Maguire enjoy a strong season that has certainly boosted his bank balance.

After Ding Junhui opted to miss the Tour Championship, Maguire stepped in at the eleventh hour and within a matter of days had swept aside all before him on the way to title glory and a cheque for £260,000.

That came after a final-frame loss to Judd Trump in the semi-finals of the Players Championship - in a match he really should have won - having reached the quarter-finals of The Masters and final of the UK Championship earlier in the campaign.

The old fire still remains, as does his aggressive streak on the table, but the way he stuck to his guns in a scrappy match against ole foe Trump at the Tour Championship was a fair indication of the new and improved Maguire.

He'll need to be on his mettle against classy veteran Martin Gould who looked much more like his old self when beating Graeme Dott on Judgement Day to book his Crucible ticket.

This could be a good match and given Maguire's penchant for big breaks of late, and Gould's heavy scoring in qualifying, the 5/2 Sky Bet are offering for four of more match centuries looks fair.

Prediction: Maguire 10-8 Gould

Best bet: Four or more match centuries at 5/2

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