Being the only tournament on the PDC calendar in which players must start the leg, as well as end it, on a double, the World Grand Prix is among the most compelling events in the world of darts.
Along with the short format in sets, the raucous Dublin crowd, and the prospect of a bullseye finish nine dart leg, the Grand Prix rewards those players who can fight for every leg from the first dart to the last.
Though the double start criterion does not eliminate the advantage of throwing first, it allows the skilful player working against the throw to negate that advantage and the player attempting to hold his throw to extend it.
Based on starting doubles data from the 2015 Grand Prix, we can estimate that a player who scores a starting double with his first dart wins the leg about 60 per cent of the time, regardless of his opponent’s performance and of whether or not he threw first in a leg.
Each additional dart missed lowers his winning chances in the leg by about eight per cent.
After about two unsuccessful starting visits, the effect of additional missed darts on a player’s likelihood of winning the leg becomes smaller.
Nine missed starting doubles is, after all, nearly as catastrophic as 19.
This is why a starting double average is not a good indicator of a player’s accuracy on his preferred doubles – an anomaly, such as 15 missed darts to start a leg massively inflates the average out of proportion to the effect that the dismal leg had on the rest of the match.
A better indicator is the percentage of starting doubles achieved in the first visit. Players who leave the oche with the starting double behind them not only avoid the ignominy of watching their opponent race ahead in the leg, but also win the leg, on average, 55 per cent of the time.
All of the top 16 players slated to participate in this year’s Grand Prix participated in last year’s event, and the most proficient players on starting doubles include some unexpected names.
More than half of the legs contested by semi-finalist Mensur Suljovic, the eccentric proponent of double 14, began with a perfect dart.
The starting double criterion may chance the strategic calculus of the players, but a perfect dart still does not excuse weak scoring or errant darts at doubles at the other end of the leg.
Ask Michael van Gerwen, who needed six fewer darts at the opening double 20 than did Robert Thornton in the fourth leg of the fifth set of last year’s final.
Though massively favoured to win the leg after nine darts thrown, van Gerwen botched the checkout after 21, busting his score with a dart at double one.
Thornton won the leg and the set, taking a 3-2 lead en route to a stunning defeat of the world number one.
The ability to endure such sudden reversals of fortune within each set and leg will truly distinguish the 2016 World Grand Prix champion from his rivals.