Let’s make one thing clear about the Crucible ‘curse’ afflicting first time champions: there is no curse.

Are we to believe some wizened old crone, blessed in the dark arts, decided back in 1977 to cast a spell on snooker players looking to defend the world title for the first time?

Frankly, winning any tournament two years running is difficult. John Higgins successfully defended the Welsh Open title this season. Prior to that it had been six years since anyone had done similar.

Only Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry have ever defended the world title at the Crucible.

Winning the thing once is hard enough, let alone winning it twice, let alone winning it two years running.

But it is true that first time champions go into their title defence under pressure. Becoming world champion means a huge hike in profile and thus demands on a player’s time.

Personal appearances, exhibitions, media work...they all take their toll and it’s hard to say no when ready cash is being thrown your way.

So it was that Davis was signing copies of his book in a Sheffield newsagent’s just a few hours before playing Tony Knowles in the first session of their opening round match in 1982.

Davis was shattered from an intensive – though highly lucrative – year of promotional work, lost the session 8-1 and the match 10-1. Take nothing away from Knowles but Davis had nothing left.

It’s a familiar tale: Dennis Taylor fell at the first hurdle in 1985, as did Graeme Dott in 2007.

Even Hendry couldn’t buck the trend, losing out 13-11 to Steve James in the 1991 quarter-finals.

Joe Johnson came the closest of any first time champion to completing a successful defence. After a dodgy start, he reached the final in 1987 and lost out only 18-14 to Davis.

Ken Doherty lost 18-12 to John Higgins in 1998, the only other first time winner to appear in the final the following year.

Neil Robertson faces Judd Trump on day one this year. This is surely the best opening match there has ever been at the Crucible.

Davis once summed up the pressure on the defending champion in typically sagely fashion: “The first shock hasn’t happened yet and it could be you.”

In a strange way, the fact Robertson is playing Trump, who has just won the China Open, may ease the pressure on him.

If he were to lose it would not be a huge shock, unlike, for instance, if he were playing some journeyman well down the rankings.

If he loses he could always blame it on the ‘curse.’

Well, if it really is a curse then it’s a good curse to have. It means you’ve done what most players could only dream of: you’ve won the World Championship.


Betty Logan said...

You really think Robertson/Trump is the best opening match ever at the Crucible? I think Ronnie and Maguire in 2005 (world champion and world number 1 against uk champion and provisional world number 3) was the most jaw dropping opening tie ever.

jamie brannon said...

I think Dave was referring to the opening tie of the event,

Maguire v O'Sullivan was not on the opening day. Neither was O'Sullivan v Ding, which gets my nod as the most anticipated first round match in this event's long history.

I'm still backing Trump to win, but it won't be a shock now.

Dave H said...

I think O'Sullivan v Maguire was on the first day

Actually I forgot all about it, but it was Maguire's debut which made him an unlikely winner even though he did have the black to win 10-7

Anonymous said...

Think you will find Dennis actually won it in 85,Dave


jamie brannon wrote

I'm still backing Trump to win, but it won't be a shock now

To be fair most of your comments tip robbo to lose at the worlds each year , so i will take your latest comnent with a pinch of salt.

Anonymous said...

12.26 I was going to say the exact same thing, i think you mean 1986 Dave.
And you also forgot about Griffiths who lost in the first round in 1980 after winning in 79.


Anonymous said...

Well, if it really is a curse then it’s a good curse to have. It means you’ve done what most players could only dream of: you’ve won the World Championship.

yes jimmy white was never cursed ;-)

jamie brannon said...

Yes, I was getting confused with their first round match from 2004, when O'Sullivan beat him after Maguire won the European Open.

Sorry Betty, you are right in my eyes to assert that was even tastier than Trump v Robertson.

However, this is still harder to call.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. It was often quoted as a stat as far back as the 1980s, because it was notable how many players won at the Crucible for the first time, then lost their opening match the next year.

Four of the first seven players to become a Crucible champion lost their opening match 12 months later.

And when you consider that several of those players had previously won it at other venues, another way of looking at it is that of the first four new world champions to emerge in the Crucible era, three ended their defence in the opening match the next year.

So I think that was really why people started referring to it. It was only when the BBC's coverage went down the road of mutual back-slapping, tedious attempts at humour, and generally low-brow light entertainment, that it started to be referred to as a "curse", in the same way that they became obsessed with players' hairstyles and artificial nicknames.

As you point out, simple fact is that retaining it is a rare feat whether you're a first time champion or not. It's been 15 years since anyone successfully defended, 13 since a holder reached the final, nine since a defending champion even made the semi finals, and it's been five years since the last time a reigning world champion even got past the second round.

So no "curse" - just a reflection of the depth of competition, and how hard it is to come through the Sheffield marathon.

Anonymous said...

Trump is full of confidence but Robertson is lethal. The number he did on Gould last year shows his true strength. Even with his back up against the wall he still has room to cue. I'd like Trump to win though.

Matt said...

Think ROS v Maguire in 2005 would get my vote too, Stephen was already a UK Champion by then and was making his second appearance at the Crucible against O'Sullivan.

Also sticks in my mind because it was my first ever match at the Crucible to be fair.

Anonymous said...

I was there in 2005 and it was on the opening Saturday. I had tickets sadly for the none event on the other table...can't remember which journeymen it was...so I decided to watch the Ronnie match in the pub outside the Crucible on the big screens. It was a great match!

Betty Logan said...

I can see why Dave would pick the Robbo/Trump tie, it's probably the first time since the world champion has drawn the winner of the previous event i.e. THE form player. It puts Trump under pressure though, and Robertson while not scaling the heights he was at the start of the season has been tough to beat in the early rounds.

Anonymous said...

wish i had a pound for every time the word journymen is used now on this blog .even u are dion it dave. i find it a little condesending. its an insult to some very good players. marcus cambell is regarded as this but i bet some of u 'journymen' bloggers would like to do what he does. dont forget these people are the best 96 in the world at what they do .how many of u can say u are top 96 in your factory or whatever u may do.

Betty Logan said...

I don't think anyone is being particularly condescending, it's just a phrase used to differentiate players who just make a living out of playing from those who win top tier events. A bit like being a Hollywood star or the star of Hollyoaks, or a supermodel or page 3 girl, or as Simon Cowell would put it: a recording artist or a club singer.

Anonymous said...

im in the top 96 in my factory

we have 90 people employed there

Dave H said...

I wasn't using it in an insulting way, just a method to distinguish Trump from a player lower down the list who hasn't won a ranking title

I wouldn't dispute that the players down the list are all talented

Anonymous said...

bet your factory is not in the top 96 factories in the world though. u just dont get it do u? same as betty ,likes to talk about something u know zero about. but your entitled to your opinion ,wrong as it is.

Anonymous said...

no wonder we dont get it. your talking rubbish and are obviously as bright as a blackout.

our opinions differ. no need to try to bring people down (or people retaliate like i did)