Mark Selby has the Crucible Curse hanging over him like charcoal clouds ready to belch out a Steel City storm as he heads into the Betfred World Championship.
Apart from the significant context, everything about Selby suggests he should be a serious title contender. He has won two recent major ranking titles, in Germany and China, and last year became the first man to beat Ronnie O’Sullivan in a Sheffield final.
Yet ever since the World Championship set up permanent home in South Yorkshire in 1977, no new champion has returned to the famous theatre to make a successful title defence 12 months later.
“You have to go out there and beat five top-class players if you are going to win it,” Selby said.
Last year those who suffered at his hands were Michael White, Ali Carter, Alan McManus, Neil Robertson and O’Sullivan.
This time the first round pairs Selby with Kurt Maflin, a London-born cueman who plays under the flag of Norway, his home for the last 10 years.
Four first-time champions have fallen in the opening round a year after triumphing, with Selby eager to avoid joining Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor, Graeme Dott and Neil Robertson in that club.
The 31-year-old from Leicester is talking a measured game, saying of the draw: “You can’t look too much into it and just have to take one match at a time.”
But Maflin is a stumbling block and Selby, a 10-9 winner over White at the start of last year’s title-winning campaign, will be wary ahead of the clash which begins on Saturday.
Born less than two months apart in 1983, Selby in June and Maflin in August, they were contemporaries on the junior circuit but with their careers spinning off in different directions have played only twice in the senior ranks.
Their most recent clash came just a fortnight ago, when Selby outfought Maflin 6-3 in the China Open semi-finals. Maflin saved a dismal season with that run, and has since beaten David Grace, Steve Davis and Fergal O’Brien to earn a World Championship debut.
Davis was so impressed he suggested Maflin could even be a dark horse for the tournament.
“That’s amazing, especially coming from someone like Davis who’s won it six times,” Maflin said.
While most expectations will be for the defending champion to post a straightforward opening-day victory, it should be noted that Selby lost to Maflin last year at the German Masters.
Somewhere in the back of Selby’s mind, that defeat will be lurking.
An advantage Selby has over his challenger is experience of the big stage.
Maflin is setting foot in the venue for the first time in his life this week.
“I promised myself I wouldn’t go to the Crucible until I got there myself, and I’ve kept to that,” he said.
The World Championship novice has overcome a host of career crises. Maflin quit professional snooker in 2004, having first earned a tour card at the age of 15 but subsequently failed to convert potential to results.
A move to Oslo with Norwegian girlfriend Anita, now his wife and mother of their son Neon, saw him struggle to find suitable practice partners, and it was only a chance offer at an amateur event in Porsgrunn, in February 2006, that offered Maflin a way back.
As Maflin said: “There was a guy out there who said he’d start sponsoring me. It was in a Norwegian championship. I was in the final, and he said ‘If you make a century I’ll start sponsoring you’.
“I made 137 in the first frame. You could say that was a turning point. If I didn’t meet that guy, Knut Pedersen, I might not have started playing again.”
Pedersen could also play well enough to compete in the Norwegian championship - not that the standard was particularly high. Maflin estimates there are only 60 full-size tables in Norway.
“Then I won the World Amateur title and got back on the tour and since then I’ve carried on going,” Maflin added.
There was another shuddering jolt. In April 2010 he suffered a car crash so serious it required him having a six-inch metal plate and seven screws inserted in his shoulder.
Maflin is considered an under-achiever for the talent he possesses, and may be a player whose career flourishes after several false starts.
Quite reasonably, he is relishing the prospect of playing at the World Championship.
“It’s a dream for every player to get there and lift that title,” he said.
“I don’t think I’d fly the family over from Norway until I get to the quarters or the semis, so I’ll leave them back home for now.”
That is fighting talk, and Selby could find himself locked in gripping combat, battling the Crucible Curse from the first morning.