Crucible Curse
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Sorcery in Sheffield strikes again – what is the Crucible Curse?

The Curse of the Crucible raised its ominous head once again on Saturday as the 2024 World Snooker Championship commenced in Sheffield.

No first-time world champion at the Crucible has ever returned the following year to successfully defend the crown at the first time of asking.

On day one of this year’s tournament, 2023 winner Luca Brecel appeared to be at least on course to negotiate his opening hurdle.

Yet the snooker gods had other ideas, and the Belgian Bullet duly squandered a late three-frame lead in an eventual 10-9 first-round defeat to David Gilbert.

Brecel, who was unable to fire on all cylinders having struggled with illness, joins an illustrious group of names who have succumbed to the Curse of the Crucible.

John Spencer and Ray Reardon

Although not first-time world champions, John Spencer and Ray Reardon’s respective triumphs in 1977 and 1978 were their maiden victories at the Crucible Theatre.

Spencer, the first Crucible champion after the tournament moved to Sheffield, lost to Perrie Mans in the first round in 1978.

Reardon’s victory that year was his sixth world title overall albeit a first in Sheffield, but the Welshman was defeated by Dennis Taylor in the 1979 quarter-finals.

Most statisticians don’t count Spencer and Reardon as having surrendered to the voodoo, but perhaps it’s the defeats of these proven snooker champions where the dreaded curse actually originated from.

Terry Griffiths

Terry Griffiths was the original first-time world champion who failed to return to the Crucible Theatre the falling year and defend his title.

Famously a winner as a qualifier in 1979, Griffiths lost to Steve Davis in his first outing of the 1980 tournament at the last-16 stage.

Cliff Thorburn

In 1981, Cliff Thorburn was back having triumphed a year earlier at the expense of Alex Higgins in the final.

The Canadian performed admirably, reaching the semi-finals before being downed by rising star Steve Davis – the eventual champion that year.

Steve Davis

If anybody thought that Davis, a winning machine of the era, could muster up the strength to break the Curse of the Crucible, think again.

In fact, the Nugget carries the stigma of possessing the worst record as a returning champion and was thrashed 10-1 by a relentless Tony Knowles in the 1982 first round.

Dennis Taylor

Davis recovered in 1983 and 1984 to claim back-to-back titles and looked like making it a hat-trick before Dennis Taylor won that final in 1985.

The bespectacled Ulsterman was duly blinded by the jinx in 1986 when he lost 10-6 to Mike Hallett in the first round.

Joe Johnson

A 150/1 outsider, few predicted Joe Johnson winning a world title and probably even fewer thought that he would go so close to a repeat.

The Bradford potter is one of only two players to reach the final the next year, and Johnson’s 18-14 loss to Steve Davis means he has come the closest of anyone to breaking the Curse of the Crucible.

Stephen Hendry

Steve Davis rampaged for the rest of the 1980s until an even younger hotshot by the name of Stephen Hendry burst onto the scene.

Hendry may have the “King of the Crucible” moniker, but even royalty is fallible to the devilry of the curse, with Hendry relinquishing his 1990 title a year later in a quarter-final reverse against Steve James.

John Parrott

John Parrott took advantage of Hendry’s demise to win the 1991 title, but the Curse was so strong with the Liverpudlian that he could never get back to the single table setup again.

In 1992, Parrott lost at the quarter-final stage after a tight 13-12 loss to Alan McManus.

Ken Doherty

Irishman Ken Doherty delighted the snooker world in 1997 by ending Hendry’s five-year reign in Sheffield.

The Darlin’ of Dublin embarked on another run to the final in 1998 but couldn’t prevent another Scot from landing his maiden world trophy – losing 18-12 to John Higgins.


The Curse of the Crucible

When did they lose?

Final: Twice
Semi-Final: 3 times
Quarter-Final: 5 times
Last 16: 3 times
Last 32: 6 times


(Stat doesn’t include Spencer and Reardon)


John Higgins

The 1999 semi-final lineup was one for the ages, featuring top seed Higgins, his Class of ’92 contemporaries Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams, and the still formidable Hendry.

Williams was the one to deny Higgins in the last four, but the Welshman would have to wait a little longer to etch his own name onto the silverware as a magnificent seventh transpired for King Hendry.

Mark Williams

Williams bounced back from losing the 1999 final by claiming the 2000 title at the expense of countryman Matthew Stevens.

In 2001, he was among the favourites again but lost a second-round thriller to Joe Swail in a deciding frame.

Ronnie O’Sullivan

Even the great Ronnie O’Sullivan has fallen for the enchantment of the Crucible Curse.

After winning a long overdue maiden world title in 2001, O’Sullivan was downed in the 2002 semi-finals by long-term rival Hendry.

Peter Ebdon

In 2003, Peter Ebdon returned as the champion having denied Hendry an eighth success a year earlier in a dramatic deciding frame – the last World Championship final to require all 35 frames.

Despite entering the event out of form, Ebdon performed quite well during his defense and reached the quarter-finals where he was beaten 13-12 by Paul Hunter.

Shaun Murphy

Shaun Murphy became only the second qualifier to win at the Crucible with his triumph at the 2005 tournament.

Twelve months on, Murphy was denied at the quarter-final stage by, somewhat ironically, the last player to succumb to the Curse – Ebdon.

Graeme Dott

Like Murphy before him, Graeme Dott represented a surprise world champion in 2006.

The Scot proved more than capable of enjoying deep runs in Sheffield, but one of those was not in the year of his defense, with Dott losing to Ian McCulloch in the 2007 opening round.

Neil Robertson

Neil Robertson beat Dott in 2010 to claim what has proven to be the Australian’s one and only world title to date.

Robertson relinquished the crown in the first round in 2011, losing to an up-and-coming young prodigy by the name of Judd Trump.

Mark Selby

Mark Selby won world titles in 2014, 2016, and 2017. We all know why he didn’t manage to emerge triumphantly in 2015, right?

Selby struggled past opening-round opponent Kurt Maflin but the Curse, taking the form of Anthony McGill, ended his hopes in the last 16.

Stuart Bingham

An emotional Stuart Bingham beat three former world champions and a future one during his memorable glory of 2015.

There were tears of despair a year later when the defending champion lost 10-9 to Ali Carter in the first round.

Judd Trump

Judd Trump dismantled the field to finally capture his first World Championship in 2019, and he was undoubtedly the player to beat in 2020.

Trump had won a record six ranking titles during the 2019/20 season, but proceedings at the Crucible were delayed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and Trump lost his winning touch in a quarter-final reverse to Kyren Wilson.

Luca Brecel

Add Luca Brecel to the list of names who have been bowled over by the Curse of the Crucible.

The 29 year-old’s loss to Gilbert on the opening day of the 2024 edition means that the hex lives on.

Will it ever be broken?


2024 World Snooker Championship Draw

Round 1 (bo19)

Luca Brecel (1) 9-10 David Gilbert
Robert Milkins (16) 10-9 Pang Junxu
Ali Carter (9) 7-10 Stephen Maguire
Shaun Murphy (8) 10-5 Lyu Haotian

Mark Selby (5) 6-10 Joe O’Connor
Kyren Wilson (12) 10-1 Dominic Dale
John Higgins (13) 10-6 Jamie Jones
Mark Allen (4) 10-6 Robbie Williams

Judd Trump (3) 10-5 Hossein Vafaei
Tom Ford (14) 10-6 Ricky Walden
Zhang Anda (11) 4-10 Jak Jones
Mark Williams (6) 9-10 Si Jiahui

Ding Junhui (7) 9-10 Jack Lisowski
Gary Wilson (10) 5-10 Stuart Bingham
Barry Hawkins (15) 8-10 Ryan Day
Ronnie O’Sullivan (2) 10-1 Jackson Page

Round 2 (bo25)

David Gilbert 13-4 Robert Milkins (16)
Stephen Maguire 13-9 Shaun Murphy (8)

Joe O’Connor 6-13 Kyren Wilson (12)
John Higgins (13) 13-12 Mark Allen (4)

Judd Trump (3) 13-7 Tom Ford (14)
Jak Jones 13-9 Si Jiahui

Jack Lisowski 11-13 Stuart Bingham
Ryan Day 7-13 Ronnie O’Sullivan (2)

Quarter-Finals (bo25)

David Gilbert 13-8 Stephen Maguire
Kyren Wilson (12) 13-8 John Higgins (13)

Judd Trump (3) 9-13 Jak Jones
Stuart Bingham 13-10 Ronnie O’Sullivan (2)

Semi-Finals (bo33)

David Gilbert 11-17 Kyren Wilson (12)
Jak Jones 17-12 Stuart Bingham

Final (bo35)

Kyren Wilson (12) 18-14 Jak Jones

Click here for the latest live scores and session times.


Featured photo credit: WST

3 Comments

  1. Jay Brannon

    Brecel the first defending champion to lose in round one since Mark Selby lost to Joe Perry in 2018. His Crucible record is now one title and six first round losses. He lost his discipline very early on last night.

    The Angry Farmer will be favourite in round two.

  2. Daniel White

    One of the least surprising instalments of the crucible curse of all time. With a probable three events left I think that the crucible will retain its record of rebuffing all first time defenders for posterity.

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