Race to the Crucible 2018: China Open Preview

  • 27th March 2018

Following Ronnie O’Sullivan’s fifth ranking event victory of the season at the Ladbrokes Players Championship last week, there is now just one event to go before the all-important ranking revision to determine the seeding list for next month’s Betfred World Championship in Sheffield.

With 16 coveted places at the Crucible Theatre to be decided, this year there is an extra twist to the tale as following the recent announcement of a record new deal which will see total prize money at the Fuhua Group China Open almost double, there is far more scope for change ahead of the decisive tournament than ever before.

So as well as being a prestigious and lucrative title in its own right, the Beijing event marks the final chance for players to add ranking points which could be the difference between being seeded straight through to the Crucible – or having to win three matches at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield to make it there.

On 9 April 2018 following the China Open, the world ranking list will be revised and used to determine the seeding list for the 2018 World Championship.

By the time of the revision, prize money earned from all events during the 2015/16 season excluding the 2016 World Championship will have been deducted and replaced by that from this season’s events up to that date. This has already been taken into account on the latest provisional seedings list, to show the situation as up to date as possible.

Also note that all seeding permutations below are provisional and on the basis that all eligible players enter the World Championship.

The Crucible Draw

Each year the top 16 seeded players at the World Championship are placed in the draw in a very specific manner, for example the top seed is always scheduled to meet the 16th seed in the second round, the second seed is always poised to meet the 15th seed and so on.

As it stands, the last 16 draw (if all first round matches were won by the seeded player) would currently look as follows:

Selby (1) v Day (16)
Fu (9) v Hawkins (8)

Higgins (5) v Robertson (12)
McGill (13) v Trump (4)

Ding (3) v Carter (14)
Brecel (11) v Williams (6)

Murphy (7) v Wilson (10)
Bingham (15) v O’Sullivan (2)

Much can still change in China though as explained below…

Battle for Number 1

Defending champion Mark Selby is already sure to head to Sheffield as top seed and world number one, but following Ronnie O’Sullivan’s record-equalling season which has so far seen him claim five ranking event titles, results in China could set up a closely fought battle for top spot heading into Sheffield.

While Selby currently holds a lead of £525,025 following results in Llandudno, with Selby set to lose £330,000 from his ranking total after Sheffield in comparison to just £22,000 coming off O’Sullivan’s tally, victory for O’Sullivan in China could see the pair head to the Crucible neck and neck in the race for the season-end top spot.

Behind the top two, Ding Junhui looks likely to be seeded third, with John Higgins needing at least the final to overtake him and nothing less than the title enough for Mark Williams or Shaun Murphy to climb to third place.

Already out of China, Judd Trump cannot finish higher than fourth, but again Higgins would need to reach the final in order to move up from his current fifth position.

In terms of the top eight, Barry Hawkins currently holds on to the final spot and with Marco Fu not competing in China, tenth placed Kyren Wilson is the player most likely to overhaul him, needing the final to do so. Such is the size of the top prize in offer in Beijing however that anyone down as far as 23rd placed Yan Bingtao could still mathematically break into the top eight by winning the title.

The Top 16

While the fight for top spot is always a key battleground, at this time of year eyes inevitably turn to the battle for the top 16 with those inside the top bracket guaranteed place at the Crucible and the rest needing to survive three best of 19 frame qualifying matches at the English Institute for Sport to join them.

A year ago the battle was surprisingly straightforward with just 16th placed Ryan Day in jeopardy having not made it to China and so history is somewhat repeating itself with the Welshman again heading to the tournament occupying 16th position and having failed to qualify for the event. With the dramatic increase in prize money however, he is not the only player who is still not guaranteed his place at the Crucible next month.

With the top nine safely qualified, the first player who could mathematically miss out on a Crucible seeding is Kyren Wilson, albeit it would take a first round exit for the Warrior and seven players to overtake him, for example as follows:

  • Luca Brecel, Neil Robertson, Anthony McGill and Ali Carter to reach the last 16
  • Stuart Bingham to reach the quarter-finals
  • Mark Allen to reach the semi-finals OR Stephen Maguire to reach the final
  • Mark King, Xiao Guodong, Anthony Hamilton, Michael White, Zhou Yuelong, Jack Lisowski, Jimmy Robertson or Tom Ford to win the title

Below Wilson, Luca Brecel finds himself in a similar position with six of the following needing to happen if he were to lose early to Cao Yupeng for the Belgian to miss out:

  • Neil Robertson, Anthony McGill and Ali Carter to reach the last 32
  • Stuart Bingham or Mark Allen reach the quarter-finals
  • Stephen Maguire or Liang Wenbo reach the final
  • One of 28 players down to 55th placed Stuart Carrington win the title

Also not yet 100% certain of his place is 2010 world champion Neil Robertson, who despite his victory at the Scottish Open before Christmas remains lower down the list in 12th than we have become accustomed to seeing him and would miss out with an opening round loss in Beijing to Robbie Williams combined with five of the following occurring:

  • Anthony McGill and Ali Carter to reach the last 32
  • Stuart Bingham or Mark Allen reach the quarter-finals
  • Stephen Maguire or Liang Wenbo reach the final
  • One of 28 players down to 55th placed Stuart Carrington win the title

For 2015 quarter-finalist Anthony McGill to miss out on being seeded for Sheffield for a second time, four of the following would need to happen if the Scot were to lose his opening match in Beijing:

  • Ali Carter to reach the last 32
  • Stuart Bingham to reach the last 16
  • Mark Allen reach the quarter-finals
  • Stephen Maguire or Liang Wenbo reach the final
  • One of 28 players down to 55th placed Stuart Carrington win the title

Two-time World Championship finalist Ali Carter looked to be fairly secure just a few months ago but an indifferent start to 2018 has seen him slip to 14th in the latest Race to the Crucible standings. He would need to qualify if three of the following results were to combine with an early exit in Beijing to recent Welsh Open semi-finalist Gary Wilson:

  • Stuart Bingham to reach the last 16
  • Mark Allen reach the quarter-finals
  • Stephen Maguire to reach the semi-finals (would tie with Carter, but be seeded higher on countback)
  • Liang Wenbo reach the final
  • One of 28 players down to 55th placed Stuart Carrington win the title

King of the Crucible in 2015, Stuart Bingham has also slipped down the ranking list in recent months following his suspension earlier this season and so is far from guaranteed to return to the venue next month. Defeat to Matthew Stevens, combined with two of the following would be enough for Bingham to miss out:

  • Mark Allen reach the last 32
  • Stephen Maguire to reach the semi-finals
  • Liang Wenbo or Mark King reach the final
  • One of 32 players down to 60th placed Andrew Higginson win the title

Already out of China, Ryan Day’s fate is now out of his hands and the Welshman will know that victory for Mark Allen against Thailand’s Noppon Saengkham out in Beijing would be enough to guarantee that he will be heading to the EISS to qualify for this year’s World Championship. If Allen were to lose that match, Day would then be hoping that none of the other permutations set out about in respect of Stuart Bingham’s position would transpire, with just one needing to happen for him to miss out.

The chasing pack

And so what of the chasing pack? Masters champion Mark Allen knows that he must win at least one match if he is to provisionally move back into the top 16 having dropped out following the removal of his ranking points for winning the 2016 Players Championship last weekend.

Behind the Northern Ireland number one, nothing less than the semi-finals will do for two-time Crucible semi-finalist Stephen Maguire, while Liang Wenbo and Mark King must go a round further still and make it through to the final.

For the rest however, with a bumper first prize of £225,000 to be won in Beijing (bettered only by the World Championship itself), incredibly anybody as far down as 60th placed Andrew Higginson could still mathematically break into the top 16 by going all the way next week.

The Top 32

Although not as important as the battle for the top 16, the race for top 32 spots is more significant than it might first appear for the World Championship as the players seeded 17-32 will be guaranteed to avoid each other in qualifying at the English Institute for Sport.

Currently occupying the final sport is Jack Lisowski, who has qualified for China, as has his closest challenger Jimmy Robertson, who must progress a round further than Lisowski in Beijing to overtake the 26-year-old.

Jack Lisowski

Among the others in close proximity, Alan McManus, Li Hang and Robert Milkins have all failed to qualify for next week’s event, but Leicester’s Tom Ford is another who could overtake Lisowski by progressing a round further in China.

Further back, Mark Joyce must reach at least the last 32, while Ben Woollaston would need to go a round further still. Gary Wilson, Kurt Maflin, Mark Davis, Cao Yupeng and Fergal O’Brien must all reach at least the semi-finals to come into contention.

Up to fifteen players could break into the top 32 by making the final, while only the title would be sufficient for the remaining 17.

For Matthew Stevens, Mike Dunn, Kurt Maflin, Xiao Guodong and Fergal O’Brien only the final would be sufficient, while behind them a further 19 players could break into the top 32 by winning the title in China.

The Top 80

With players ranked 17-80 to be seeded in the draw for the World Championship and drawn to play those ranked 81-144, for this tournament only it is the top 80 which becomes an important bracket to consider.

Among those Currently occupying 80th position is Mitchell Mann, who already out of China must hope that the following results do not happen for him to remain seeded for the Sheffield qualifiers:

  • Jak Jones, Martin O’Donnell or Craig Steadman reach the last 16
  • Wang Yuchen or Zhang Yong reach the quarter-finals
  • One of the remaining 10 lower ranked players reaches the semi-finals

If more than one of these permutations happens, the likes of Hammad Miah and Zhao Xintong who are also just ranked inside of the top 80 at present could also find their positions under threat.

For more updates throughout the China Open, follow my live blog (to be published next week) here at WPBSA.com or alternatively follow @prosnookerblog and @WPBSAofficial via Twitter.