It would not be snooker in the modern era if a qualifying tournament was not full of surprises and that was the case at Ponds Forge. The likes of Gary Wilson, Yan Bingtao, David Grace, Noppon Saengkham and Zhou Yuelong will make their debuts at the Crucible, whilst big names including Michael White, Mark Williams, Mark King, David Gilbert and Michael Holt will all miss out on World Championship appearances. There was also a new World Record just to add to the drama.
Crucible debutants aplenty
World number 59 Gary Wilson showed his class when he shot a maximum in the first round of qualification and he continued that form throughout the week. Wilson raced into a 5-1 lead against Michael White on the back of 130 in the sixth. The Welshman who qualified automatically last year showed a brief resurgence with two frames in three, before Wilson nailed home his advantage with four consecutive frames to qualify for the Crucible for the first time.
17-year old hotshot Yan Bingtao will also play on the big stage for the first time after seeing off European Under-21 Champion Alexander Ursenbacher. The Swiss hopeful was the only amateur remaining but soon found his match as he fell 6-1 behind to the World number 63 after four half century breaks. Three wins from the next four frames could not spark a comeback for Ursenbacher as Bingtao continued to show maturity beyond his years to ease to a 10-4 success. Bingtao will be the second youngest player to make the Crucible, just a couple of weeks behind Luca Brecel's record.
The Thai players had been making a name for themselves during qualification but it was to be the end of the road for Akani Songsermsawad. After finding himself 3-2 behind, World number 51 David Grace soon realised he needed to make a move and he did just that with eight consecutive frame wins as Songsermsawad missed out on numerous opportunities to forge telling breaks.
However, qualification was to prove fruitful for another Thai player in Noppon Saengkham who ensured he would be the lowest ranked player in the competition at number 72. That pleasure looked at one stage as if it would go to his opponent Lee Walker who lead 6-3 and 7-5. Yet five frames from the next six underpinned by a 122 and 134 ensured Saengkham saw off the number 89 seed and became just the fourth player from Thailand to qualify for the Crucible.
World number 37 Zhou Yuelong became the last of six players from China to qualify and the fifth debutant in this season's competition. In a tight contest with Ben Woollaston where neither play established a lead of more than two frames, Yuelong held his nerve to win a final frame decider on the qualifiers after top scoring with a break of 131 and making six more half centuries.
Ebdon wins an extraordinary qualifier a quarter of a century after his first appearance
A surprise in terms of rankings but not based upon pedigree unfolded in a quite remarkable match between Peter Ebdon and Michael Holt. The 2002 World Champion, now ranked 42nd in the World, opened a 6-3 lead overnight before Holt responded to go 9-8 ahead. Yet the World number 23 missed a string of opportunities and with just the blue required to win in a deciding frame, Holt fouled and Ebdon went on to reach his 24th World Championship 25 years after his first appearance at the Crucible.
Fellow former World Champion Graeme Dott joins Ebdon at the Crucible for his 18th taste of snooker's premier event. Dott won the title back in 2006 and used all of his experience to defeat Jamie Jones after falling 4-0 and then 8-7 behind.
Arguably the biggest shock of qualification came for two-time World Champion Mark Williams. After missing out on automatic qualification by just one win at the China Open, Williams never got into a rhythm after falling 6-3 behind to Stuart Carrington. Williams did respond to pull the deficit back to just one before the World number 48 accelerated to make his second appearance at the Crucible.
Mark King finally won his first ranking event this season but was stunned by Xiao Guodong who reaches the Crucible for the second time. The World number 44 went 8-1 ahead against the man ranked 23 places above him, before sealing a 10-4 win with two century and six half century breaks.
A handful of familiar faces safely through
Luca Brecel made it through after recovering from going three frames behind as Dominic Dale racked up his 200th career century. He was followed by World number 18 Martin Gould after seeing off a spirited Yu Delu who had led twice and was locked at 7-7 before Gould won three frames on the trot.
Outsider Rod Lawler could not overturn a 21-year wait since his last Crucible appearance as he was eased out 10-6 by World number 39 Jimmy Robertson. Scotland's Stephen Maguire is much more accustomed to the big stage and will make a 14th consecutive World Championship appearance after smoothly bypassing Li Hang with a 10-5 win.
World number 32 Tom Ford had to work hard to defeat the in-form Hossein Vafei who reached the semi-finals of the China Open. Though ultimately Ford's quality shone through as he scored half century breaks in all ten of his frame victories during the 10-8 success.
World number 54 Rory McLeod made hard work of his contest with the only player outside the top 100 in the third qualification round. McLeod went 7-0 up against Hammad Miah before the young Englishman struck back with six consecutive frames. After a spell of tight tactical contests, McLeod eventually came through 10-7.
The longest frame in snooker history
If anyone was ever in any doubt of how much qualification means to these players you only have to take a look at the final frame between David Gilbert and Fergal O'Brien. Gilbert went 6-1 ahead only for O'Brien to fight back and force the decider that lasted for a record 119 minutes and 40 seconds, overtaking the 100 minutes and 24 seconds set by Barry Pinches and Alan McManus.
O'Brien eventually ran out victorious after a long spell of doing laps around the table, but the length of time did not go down well with players and fans alike. Shaun Murphy joked "it's OK though, we definitely, absolutely, 100% do not need a shot clock". Remarkably O'Brien was also still playing his second round match at 2:30am on Tuesday morning as his careful game paid dividends once again.
The qualifiers now await Thursday morning's draw where they will find out their first-round opponents at the Crucible.