McGill v Maguire could go down to the wire
Reigning champion Selby should coast to victory
Selby v O’Brien
Defending champion Mark Selby opens proceedings on the 40th anniversary of snooker’s flagship tournament going to the Crucible Theatre and it’s difficult to see the world number one coming a cropper in his Betfred World Championship opener.
Fergal O’Brien, Selby’s first-round opponent, has won just two of the last 19 frames he has contested against the top seed.
Add to that the fact that he was embroiled in a mentally sapping two-hour-plus deciding frame against David Gilbert in the qualifiers on Wednesday night together with the fact that he is rightly full of respect for the Jester from Leicester and there seems little hope for the outsider.
But O’Brien, who won his first two meetings against Selby, deserves credit for seeing off Gerard Greene, Tian Pengfei and Gilbert at Ponds Forge just down the road from the Crucible, so things aren’t entirely desperate for the experienced Dubliner.
It’s difficult to find a market which offers the chance to win at acceptable odds – backing Selby on a centuries match bet would have appealed but there were no quotes – and so the 1-2 that the favourite wins before 17 frames are contested appeals most.
M Selby -3.5 frames
1pt 1-2 Paddy Power
McGill v Maguire
The all-Glasgow clash between Anthony McGill and Stephen Maguire should be fun for viewers, but it’s hard to be bullish about who will progress.
Qualifier Maguire, who says that winning three matches at Ponds Forge has made him sharper than usual for the main phase, is shading favouritism against his friend.
McGill has won all four of their previous clashes, but their most meaningful clash was at the Crucible two years ago when the younger man prevailed in a first-round deciding-frame thriller.
Maguire sounds more hopeful of getting his name on the board this time, but the best way of punting on the match may be to go over the frames.
Over 15.5 frames
2pts 1-2 Hills
O’Sullivan v G Wilson
The early 10-1 that Gary Wilson upsets Ronnie O’Sullivan has already been taken and the Wallsend potter has certainly been in a rich vein of form in recent days.
At Ponds Forge, Wilson posted four centuries, including a 147 maximum break, against Josh Boileau, three tons in the course of downing World Seniors champ Peter Lines, and a 130 when whipping former top-16 player Michael White 10-3.
Wilson deserves plenty of respect and if the belief is there, then he could hardly be facing O’Sullivan at a better time.
The Rocket has been struggling to focus on his day job and it would almost be a surprise were he to lift the title this season.
Wilson has been a bit of a shrinking violet in his career, though, and O’Sullivan will know that. This is obviously the outsider’s toughest task in the tournament yet, but punters may do well to keep that White victory fresh in their memory banks.
O’Sullivan, who is chasing a sixth world crown, may dominate from the start. But it may be worth chancing that Wilson, who sounds confident, at least takes the game to his opponent and so backing the outsider not to be thrashed could be the way to go. Wilson with a start of 5.5 frames can be considered but over 14.5 frames is preferred.
Over 14.5 frames
1pt 8-11 Coral
K Wilson v Grace
Bookmakers are taking few chances on Kyren Wilson opening with a victory over David Grace and they’re probably right to.
Wilson looks as if he is coming nicely to the boil in time for the Crucible and aged 25 it’s probably about time the Kettering cueman started making a name for himself in the sport’s premier tournament.
But while Wilson is capable of setting up a possible quarter-final clash with John Higgins, it may be wise not to underrate Grace.
The 31-year-old from Leeds was one of the better young talents when first making his name five or six years ago. It took him a long time to break into the big time, but that happened when he reached the semi-finals of the 2015 Betway UK Championship.
Grace has struggled to follow up that fine effort, but he has the ability to make Wilson toil if playing well enough.
In the qualifiers, Grace comfortably ousted Thor Chuan Leong and Mark Joyce, then really turned it on to oust Joe Perry’s conqueror Akani Songsermsawad 10-3 in the last 48.
It could pay to find a way to support the big lad and the best way may be to take the 8-11 about the clash lasting for at least 16 frames.
Over 15.5 frames
1pt 8-11 Hills