I was asked recently on Twitter if I thought a qualifier could win the World Championship.
My immediate thought was ‘no.’ After all, if non-top 16 players by and large do not threaten to win other major tournaments, why should they triumph at the Crucible?
Only two have. Terry Griffiths did so in his first season as a professional in 1979. There were fewer players in those days but it was still a remarkable achievement and arguably one of the most significant in the game’s history as it persuaded until then unsure amateurs that they too could take the plunge and embrace the pro ranks with some possibility of success.
The second was Shaun Murphy in 2005. This was also remarkable, not just the achievement but the all-guns-blazing way it was accomplished.
Murphy had never lacked for self belief but, even so, to be 16-16 in the world final and then win the two clinching frames with big breaks took real guts.
Is it conceivable anyone can follow in Griffiths and Murphy’s footsteps in 2013?
Of course, we don’t yet know who the top 16 seeds will be at the conclusion of the China Open, but maybe this is the point.
In years gone by, the 16 seeds for Sheffield were not the 16 most in form players.
For instance, Murphy beat Chris Small in the first round in 2005. Small was at the time suffering from the debilitating back condition which would end his career.
Alain Robidoux was seeded for the Crucible in 1999 despite having failed to win a single match all season.
So the current top 16 is a more accurate barometer of who has played well over the last two seasons, although of course lower down there have been strong performances which have not been rewarded as greatly in terms of ranking points.
In terms of shock winners, we must surely look to younger players who, like Murphy, are relatively unencumbered by mental scars.
For instance, last year Jamie Jones reached the quarter-finals and very nearly the semis.
There’s Jack Lisowski. Jack is a ferociously attacking player, much like his friend Judd Trump, who himself came within three frames of winning the title as a qualifier two years ago.
Lisowski is the sort of player who, if he got to the Crucible, could put the frighteners up a few established players.
How about Luca Brecel? His road to Sheffield is long enough but he qualified last year and was a UK Championship quarter-finalist earlier this season. Like Lisowski, he has a fearless quality in keeping with his age.
Michael White, a good friend of Jones, looks impressive and is trying to make the next step up, beating top players.
The Chinese have several prospects but Cao Yupeng was one who proved he could handle the big stage when he beat Mark Allen in the first round last year.
Or perhaps we are looking in the wrong place. Even Murphy had had a fair amount of TV experience prior to his world title triumph, which is surely crucial in terms of Crucible success.
So older hands such as Marco Fu or Joe Perry or Ryan Day, all well versed in the long matches of the World Championship, may be in with a shout.
But for any qualifier to win the title this year they would have to beat a combination of O’Sullivan, Trump, Selby, Robertson, Allen, Higgins, Ding, Maguire, Murphy, Bingham and Carter, possibly one in each round, which sounds like a mission too far.
So my answer to the original question is this: not impossible but not likely.