What makes The Crucible such a special place?

The Sheffield venue has hosted snooker's World Championship since 1977

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Picture by: Tim Goode / PA Archive/Press Association Images

"I don't think the World Championships should ever move from here to be honest. This is the home. There are some things in life that money can't buy. This has a sanctity. You cannot buy that no matter how much you try. It would be like moving The Masters from Augusta to somewhere else. It's not The Masters any more."

1997 World Champion Ken Doherty is not in the minority when he speaks about how special The Crucible is to snooker players. The World Championship moves to the one-table format on Thursday afternoon after 12 days using two tables to whittle the players down from 32 to the semi-finalists.

Alan McManus meets Ding Junhui the first semi-final on Thursday afternoon. World number one Mark Selby faces Marco Fu in the second match. The winner will be crowned on Monday evening.

The Crucible has been a venue that has always intrigued me. How small is the theatre? How close are the players to the crowd? Where does that magical partition that is used in the two-table format come from?

I travelled to Sheffield earlier in the tournament to see what all the fuss was about. It's a venue that lives up to the hype in every possible sense. It's old. It's small. It has character. It's unique. Behind the scenes the hallways are tiny. The Crucible is a venue that takes no prisoners.

Picture by: Mike Egerton / PA Archive/Press Association Images

Rob Walker is one of the few people that is seen everyday by The Crucible crowd. Since 2008, he has been the Master of Ceremonies at the World Championships and also works for the BBC as a reporter interviewing players after matches. He loves the venue.

"In certain areas backstage you have to stand with your back to the wall if someone passes you. You could argue, if you are being really harsh and modern about it, that elements of the venue are impractical. Surely that adds to the whole appeal? It has its idiosyncrasies. It's not a perfect, gleaming, brand-new, state of the art venue. It's a place with atmosphere and it's a place with history. It's a place that's intrinsically and inherently linked with snooker."

"Even the layout of the actual playing arena is very special. There is no other venue we go to on the snooker tour, I don't think, where the playing floor, the surface that the players stand on is beneath the first level of spectators. That encourages it to feel like a Colosseum. Where there are two tables playing that arena is very tight."

Such is the lack of space in the arena, up until the semi-final stages, opponents have to sit beside each other in a compact space. Walker feels that adds to the tension of the Championship.

"The two players are sitting incredibly close together. Almost uncomfortably so. If you were sitting in those two seats, you would do your best, even with a good mate, to lean away to give that other person their personal space."

"In certain seats, as far as the spectators are concerned, they are so close they could lean over and tap the player on the back. Can you imagine what that must do in terms of heightening the tension? It's a very, very, very special place. In my opinion it should never leave this venue."

Picture by: Simon Cooper/PA Archive/Press Association Images

This year's event marks the 40th time, the Sheffield venue has hosted the event. Doherty has played in 19 of them. The 46-year-old lost in the final qualifying round earlier this month to Ryan Day as he bid to make it 20 appearances in 26 years.

Working at the event with the BBC, Doherty revealed it's still an honour to be part of the event, despite not competing. "This tournament is a very special tournament. It stands out on it's own. It's completely different to any other tournament. It's special because of the venue. It's special because it's the World Championship. It's special because of it's history. It's special because of the nostalgia that's attached to it. We all grew up watching the World Championships. We watched our heroes winning and losing".

Even after 19 previous appearances and as one of the most experienced players on the circuit, the Dubliner describes The Crucible as "eerie" and "intimidating". "It can be really noisy. It can be really silent. Deathly silent. You can feel the pressure. You can hear the old ladies rustling their sweet papers. You can feel the crowd almost breathing on your neck when you're playing your shot, they are so close to you."

The semi-finals is where the tournament really takes off according to Doherty and Walker. From the compactness of being within touching distance of the crowd when taking a shot, the semi-finalists will feel like they are in no-man's land when at the table.

"I just it takes on a new dimension", Walker feels when the one-table set-up is introduced. "I don't think it's any less exciting when there is one less table. It's just different, not quite as intimate, but it's equally as fascinating."

"The focus is just on yourself and the table and your match", Doherty reveals. He should know, after winning all three semi-finals he competed in in Sheffield. "That's when it really comes into its own."

Picture by: Simon Cooper / PA Archive/Press Association Images

This year's event is the first time in over 20 years that three-time finalist has missed two World Championships in a row. "You feel that if you haven't played in Sheffield, your season has been non-existent basically. You put all your effort into getting here. It's special to be a part of it. Not being a part of it this year hurt."

Like he did when returning in 2010, after a one-year absence, the World number 52 has vowed to kiss The Crucible floor next year if he qualifies as a player. You wouldn't bet against that happening.

The players clearly love the venue. In the build-up to the tournament, McManus spoke about not even recognising a player as World Champion if they won the event away from The Crucible. That may seem extreme but it shows how much the venue with only 980 seats means to the players.

Rob Walker described it best when speaking about The Crucible's importance. "Next year it's 40 years at The Crucible. 40 years! You could say a generation in a sportsman's life is ten years. That's four generations of snooker players, four generations of snooker fans. Four generations of general sports fans who hear The Crucible. 'That's in Sheffield, the snooker is there, isn't it?'. You can't buy that".

Once the tournament ends on Monday evening, The Crucible will return to its day job. The musical 'Flowers for Mrs Harris' takes centre stage in the middle of May but memories from weeks before will still remain.

Next year's tournament is the final one at The Crucible under the current deal that was signed in 2015. It's the spiritual home of the game, and despite the sport becoming heavily influenced by Chinese money (they even built a replica of the theatre outside Beijing), you really hope it will never leave.