THE DAFABET World Championship is snooker’s version of the Game of Thrones. The blood on the carpet is metaphorical rather than literal but it remains a hard fought annual power play to be the king of the green baize.
Ronnie O’Sullivan sits on the iron throne as defending champion but knows he will face significant challenges from Ding Junhui, a five times ranking event winner this season, world no.1 Neil Robertson and plenty more besides when the final stages get underway.
The televised phase starts on April 19th at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, an iconic venue hosting the game’s premier event for the 38th time. The qualifiers start on Tuesday at Ponds Forge, also in Sheffield.
This is the closest the qualifiers have ever been to the Crucible, both in terms of dates and geography. You can walk from Ponds Forge to the home of snooker in less than ten minutes, so it’s a rather cruel reminder for those who fail to make it through of what might have been.
There are five former world champions involved in qualifying: Steve Davis must win three matches while Ken Doherty, Mark Williams, Peter Ebdon and Graeme Dott all have one round to negotiate.
Jimmy White and Matthew Stevens, runners-up at the Crucible eight times between them, are also among the hopefuls cueing up at Ponds Forge.
There are well established players, some newer faces and a number of potential debutants. Often, a couple of players come through completely unexpectedly while sometimes the favourites fall in the melee of qualifying, all adding to the intrigue and the drama.
The unique pressure the World Championship produces is augmented by the fact the next week will decide which players keep their tour cards and which are relegated. The whole season has been building up to this point.
The top 16 seeds can relax – for now. They will be practising ready for the TV stages, not knowing who they will play until the draw is made on April 17.
For everyone else it’s the agony of qualifying, a kind of World Championship all in itself. Only 16 will make it through this battle before the war of attrition starts at the Crucible.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.