Beijing or bust; is there a new ‘Crucible curse’ affecting winners of the China Open?

Much is made in snooker about the ‘curse of the Crucible’ – the fact that no first-time winner of snooker’s World Championship has retained his title, dating back to the first tournament held at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield in 1977. That particular curse continued this year, with last year’s winner Stuart Bingham knocked out in the first round by Ali Carter.

But what if there was a second, different curse affecting players at the Crucible? Peter Ebdon alluded to this on commentary of this year’s championship, during Judd Trump’s second round match against Ding Junhui. Just two weeks prior to the start of the World Championship, Trump had beaten Ricky Walden 10-4 to seal his second China Open title; but now, Trump was about to be knocked out at the last 16 stage of snooker’s most prestigious event. Ebdon speculated – is there a curse affecting winners of the China Open?

Whether you genuinely believe in curses, in sport or otherwise, is the topic for a totally different article. Perhaps it just makes for an interesting bit of trivia or a new slant for journalists to frame their previews of the tournament. Yet despite snooker being an extremely competitive sport in recent years (there will be nine different winners of the ten ranking tournaments in the 2015/16 season), it would seem logical to believe that the winner of the tournament directly preceding the World Championship would be in form and well placed to launch a bid at snooker’s great prize.

This ‘curse’ may be a subject close to Ebdon’s heart, as he has won in Beijing twice (2009 and 2012) only to be knocked out in the first round in Sheffield on both occasions. But whilst Ebdon was correct in saying that no winner of the China Open has ever gone on to lift the title at Crucible in the same season, the statistics show that not only do winners in China fail to win the world title – they usually don’t even get close. See the table below, since the China Open was revived as a ranking event in 2005:

A list of the China Open winners, and their respective performance at the World Championship, since 2005.
A list of the China Open winners, and their respective performance at the World Championship, since 2005.

Aside from Trump’s run as a qualifier in a losing effort in the final against John Higgins in 2011,success in the China Open has been an indicator of under-performing at the Crucible. As well as Ebdon, first round departures for Graeme Dott, Neil Robertson and Ding (who didn’t qualify for the World Championship in 2005) mean that exactly half of the winners in Beijing don’t even make it past the first round in Sheffield. The next best effort after Trump was Stephen Maguire’s quarter final appearance in 2008.

So what to make of this ‘curse’? Twelve editions of the China Open may not be enough of a sample size to justify it as a true curse (the primary ‘Crucible curse’ will be in its fortieth year in 2017), but it might be prudent if you’re a gambling man to think twice before backing next year’s China Open winner to lift the world title in Sheffield. In fact, judging by previous years, there’s a 50% chance they won’t even make it out of the first round.

All information correct as of 1st May 2016.

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