Five things to look out for at this year’s World Matchplay

With the 2017 World Matchplay set to get underway later today, here are five things you should look out for during the tournament…

Phil Taylor’s final match on the Winter Gardens stage

The sport’s most successful ever player announced at the start of the year his plans to retire from the professional circuit at the end of the 2018 World Championship, meaning this will be the final time we see Phil Taylor compete in the World Matchplay.

The 16-time world champion has dominated this major event over the last two decades, racking up 15 titles, including seven in a row between 2008 and 2014, and has appeared in every single World Matchplay event dating back to its first staging in 1994.

Few would begrudge The Power making it 16 World Matchplay titles, to equal his world title count, a week on Sunday, but he’ll have a tough route to achieve it. Rising star Gerwyn Price is first up tomorrow night, while arch rivals Raymond van Barneveld and Michael van Gerwen could await him in the next two rounds.

Which ever round Taylor gets to in Blackpool in his final World Matchplay appearance, it will mark the end of an era at the Winter Gardens.

MVG eyes a hat-trick of titles as he continues to build his legacy

World number one Michael van Gerwen comes to Blackpool once again as the top seed and the favourite to lift the title for what would be a third year in a row.

While the Dutchman has some catching up to do if he is to match Phil Taylor’s 15 triumphs at the Winter Gardens, claiming the title for a third successive year would be a landmark achievement.

In the event’s 20+ year history, only Taylor has managed that feat (twice), so if van Gerwen were to complete the hat-trick it would only help build the legacy he is creating for himself at the oche.

After missing the cut in 2010 and 2011, van Gerwen has at least reached the quarter-finals or better on his five visits to Blackpool since. He will take some stopping to extend that record to a sixth year.

Can Rob Cross live up to the hype?

There will be five new faces on the Winter Gardens this stage this year, as Cristo Reyes, James Wilson, Christian Kist, Steve West and Rob Cross all get ready to make their World Matchplay debuts over the next few days.

From those five, Cross is undoubtedly creating the biggest buzz in the lead up to the tournament. Last year’s Challenge Tour Order of Merit winner has enjoyed a remarkable first season so far on the main circuit, winning two Pro Tour titles and beating Michael van Gerwen on the European Tour.

The big question will be whether his form from the Pro Tour can translate onto the big stage. Despite being ranked some 30+ places below his first round opponent Ian White in the rankings, Cross is the favourite with the bookmakers to win on his debut on Monday night.

Can he live up to the hype and continue his impressive maiden season on the main PDC circuit? We’ll find out over the next few days!

Several seeds to tumble in the first round

If there is one thing you can expect from the World Matchplay, it is for some of the seeds to depart in the first round.

Since switching from eight to 16 seeds in 2002, 67 seeds have bowed out at the first hurdle of the World Matchplay in the last 15 years, an average of just over four each year.

While no one is expecting the tournament record of first round seed casualties to be broken this year (the record is nine from 2010) we do predict three or four to be axed before the last 16.

Many are tipping the likes of Simon Whitlock, Benito van de Pas, Robert Thornton, Ian White and Jelle Klaasen to be in danger of an early exit, but don’t be too surprised if we see one of the higher seeds slip up.

The standard of the Pro Tour Order of Merit qualifiers seems to be improving year after year, with more stage-playing opportunities through the European Tour now available, so don’t write off anyone from causing an upset.

Race for the Champions League

One sub-plot to keep an eye on will be the race to qualify for the Champions League of Darts.

The BBC-televised event is back for its second staging in Cardiff in September and there are three spots in the eight-player field still up for grabs.

We know defending champion Phil Taylor, as well as current world numbers one, two, three and four, Michael van Gerwen, Gary Anderson, Peter Wright and Adrian Lewis, will be there, but who will fill the last three spots.

Dave Chisnall, Mensur Suljovic and Raymond van Barneveld are currently in the provisional three spots, but we can expect the likes of Michael Smith, James Wade and Jelle Klaasen to be in contention before the cut-off falls after the World Matchplay.

Chris Mason’s World Matchplay preview: This has the ingredients to be the best ever Matchplay

Going on what we’ve seen last weekend in America, you’d have to make Michael van Gerwen a continued firm favourite to make it a hat-trick of World Matchplay titles a week on Sunday, but it’s going to be an interesting event.

There are a few debutants, including Rob Cross, who I”m looking forward to seeing how he gets on against Ian White in the first round.

It’s a real tough game for both that, that’s a real pick-em match. You never know with Whitey, what kind of form he’s going to turn up in.

It’s a tough route though for MVG. He’s got Stephen Bunting to start, which you’d expect him to get through, then he gets the winner of Kyle Anderson and Simon Whitlock, another tough one.

And then a potential winner out of that incredible little group of Phil Taylor, Gerwyn Price, Raymond van Barneveld and Joe Cullen. I wouldn’t want to be in that section!

That’s a real horrific section of the draw. Price and Taylor, you’d have to go with Taylor, he’s still averaging around 100 when he’s on his game.

I think Cullen might beat van Barneveld. I think it’s come a bit early for van Barneveld with his new darts, he doesn’t look that comfortable with them yet. It’s going to take a bit of time to adjust, so that’s one of the seeds I think could potentially go.

For Taylor, the Matchplay is one of his favourite events. He loves the venue, he’s got a place not very far from Blackpool, so he’s going to be very comfortable.

He’ll have all of his practice set up sorted and he has the advantage that he didn’t go to compete in the US event, so he’ll be fresh, he’ll be well rested, no jet lag.

Let’s not forget he played very well in Shanghai against Michael and was 5-0 up. He had his chances to take him out, write Taylor off at your peril.

I think if he gets over Pricey, as I say I think he’ll play Cullen, who’s in the form of his life, if he gets through Cullen and then plays MVG over a long format, it’ll be the best of 31 legs, he’s in with a hell of a shout.

I think it would be lovely as a bit of a swansong for Phil to go out winning one of his favourite events. I certainly hope he does it.

In the bottom half of the draw you’ve got Gary Anderson as the second seed. He absolutely hates the Winter Gardens at Blackpool, I think his best ever run is a semi-final, most of the time he goes out first or second round.

But he’s playing some fabulous darts at the minute. He’s got to have a run and I think that bottom half is really winnable for him.

In there you’ve got Cristo Reyes against Robert Thornton, where we could see another seed go. Robert’s not been in the greatest form of late, he’s missed a fair few events.

The winner of that will likely play Peter Wright and I can really see a Wright/Anderson semi-final and that would be a pick-em match.

The bottom half pretty much makes itself. I know Daryl Gurney’s been playing really well, but again he’s got a fairly tough route.

Daryl would play Anderson in round two, and I know Anderson lost to Gurney at the weekend, but this is a bit of a different animal for me.

I’ve just got a feeling Anderson’s going to go on a run this year. He’s due one at the Matchplay and he’s due to play really well there.

I do think there’s going to be some shocks, everywhere you look from top to bottom you could see there being seeds go out.

I could see Anderson beating Whitlock, I could see Cullen beating Barney, and Mervyn King’s been playing well, he recently got to a final.

Steve Beaton against Adrian Lewis, Adrian’s had his health problems at the minute so I’m not sure how prepared he’ll be, and Beaton’s always a toughie, he’s won on the Pro Tour this year.

Cross against White, I wouldn’t comfortably put any money on there. Gurney against Benito van de Pas, Justin Pipe and Jelle Klaasen, and Darren Webster against James Wade, another potential banana skin.

The tournament could be full of shocks and surprises, and the Matchplay usually does throw a few of them up.

It’s going to be a really exciting tournament, the best 32 players in the world currently getting the chance to duke it out. This potentially has the ingredients to be the best ever World Matchplay.

World Matchplay betting column, day one: Four favourites to progress, but how will they do it?

Favourite backers out there will be glad to know they will be able to secure industry-wide odds against for the four-timer, with Paddy Power laying 5/4 on Smith/Wade/Anderson and Wright all to win their matches.

If you were to back the four outsiders, in the unlikely event they all win, you will be able to pocket a cool 846/1 on this with Marathonbet if you choose this route.

Taking the middle approach and taking on all the favourites and underdogs on the handicaps respectively pays:

FAVS – Smith -2.5; Wade -2.5; Anderson -4.5 and Wright -4.5 pays 10/1 with Marathonbet

Underdogs – West +3,5; Webster +2.5; Kist +5.5 and Wilson +4.5 pays nearly 10/1 at Betfred

Michael Smith vs. Steve West

Down to business and Bully Boy opens up the Winter Gardens against the very experienced Steve West tonight.

Last autumn West rallied in a mini surge on the circuit, which got people talking about him, and he has continued some good form to the extent of making the cut via the leading 16 players in the Pro Tour Order of Merit, outside the players that qualified by right.

Smith is 3/10 vs West out at 100/30, and I am sure this will see some shrewd money on West, knowing Smith’s tendencies, although he has been one of the more form players most recently, especially on the European Tour.

This has earned him a call up to the World Series next month Down Under in Australia and New Zealand. The pair have met four times previously, both trading at two-apiece.

Compilers have Smith between a -2.5 and -3.5 handicap with Boylesports offering 8/11 on -2.5 and odds against -3.5. Remember either player will need to win by two legs!

Smith is the 4/5 favourite to land the highest checkout, with West 15/8 and 6/1 for the tie.

Layers offer just 4/7 the game sees 16 or more legs and 4/5 for fewer than 17 legs. With Smith in a better place and more stage exposure than West, the format for West will not be as familiar and I’ll give Bully Boy the edge. -2.5 legs for Smith is for me.

James Wade vs. Darren Webster

James Wade battles recent Pro Tour title-holder Darren Webster in what could be a closer game than the layers are anticipating.

Some firms are as big as 2/5 for Wade (71.4 per cent implied probability) to win the contest.

This is one of Wade’s fondest arena’s having lifted the title and being his most successful major from the list.

Webster on the other hand has nothing to lose, with Wade jet-setting on the World Series which must have had some influence for his preparation.

Webster’s record is not great against Wade. Darren has racked up three wins in 11 attempts with one victory in 10 years, although meetings have been sparse in this time.

On a potential betting market, at the time of initial writing I will be interested in what checkout line is priced for Wade generally, and will be interested whether they price it over 116 concentrated as a 5/6 pick-em price?

Luckily, just before this went to press bookmaker Marathonbet priced the Wade checkout line at 113.5 at 1.89.

Wade has maintained his position at the top via his checkout ability as the power scoring is not always there for The Machine, which is a fair comment to make.

So many Wade bets we have played in the past on the checkout have delivered more often that not and we will take this on one more time.

Gary Anderson vs. Christian Kist

Gary Anderson takes on Christian Kist where the Dutchman has been suffering with some darting issues, which has seen a dip in performances.

In fact Kist has struggled to the point that he has failed to get beyond a last 16 in any event in 2017 according to my sources.

The pair have met five times, with Anderson seeking the advantage in three of them.

Anderson is a hot favourite to win this, and where there is no value on the outright, the next bet is to see how the bookmakers have weighed in the handicap.

From analysing the markets, Anderson is favoured to win this 10-5 or better at 4/5 with bet365. The 4/5 market is also available on Sky Bet taking the game fewer than 16 legs and this will suffice for us.

Peter Wright vs. James Wilson

The final game of the night sees Snakebite take on the Jammie Dodger and according to the head-to-head the pair have not met in competition before.

Wright with his UK Open title has demonstrated some steady performances winning European titles, as well as appearing in the Premier League finals back in May.

Wright is heavily favoured to win this and is given a 4.5 leg handicap so winning this 10-5 or better, which is 6/5 with Betfair.

Marathonbet has priced up the maximum line at 4.5 and the line at 5/6 and is a bet I am willing to take on and possibly trade in play if Wright fires out the blocks quickly with a maximum.

Recommendations (Lockup Dave’s personal stake plan – £10 a point)
Michael Smith -2.5 legs vs West – 1.72 Boylesports – 2pts
James Wade Over 113.5 checkout – 1.89 Marathonbet – 1pt
Anderson/Kist Under 15.5 legs – 4/5 Sky Bet – 1.5pts
Peter Wright Over 4.5 180s – 5/6 Marathonbet – 1pt

Please bet responsibly

James Wade aims to continue his love affair with the Winter Gardens as he gets latest World Matchplay title bid underway tonight

James Wade is aiming to continue his excellent record in the World Matchplay when he gets his 2017 campaign underway this evening.

It was 10 years ago this year that Wade went all the way in Blackpool and won the title, his first major in the PDC, and he has reached the final at the Winter Gardens on five other occasions.

Wade, who failed to reach the quarter-finals at the World Matchplay for the first time in his career last year, when he lost to Mervyn King in the first round, takes on Darren Webster on the opening night of the tournament today.

“It’s my favourite tournament,” Wade said. “I love the crowd there and I like the format – it’s a great format and in my opinion it’s the most reflective format in the game.

“In the World Championship you can win less legs and win the game; I think that almost eats away in the back of my mind sometimes.

“It’s a very enjoyable tournament and close to my heart. I tend to relax there and enjoy myself.

“I’ve got some great memories and I’ve enjoyed some great moments of my career there and seen some amazing games. I’ve been involved in, personally, some great games there, I love it.”

Gary Anderson hoping this could be the year his Blackpool struggles disappear at the World Matchplay

Gary Anderson is hoping 2017 could be the year that it all clicks for him at the Winter Gardens.

The world number two has notoriously struggled at the World Matchplay, with last year’s run to the semi-finals only the second time in eight appearances that the Scot has got past the second round.

With two World Championship and Premier League titles under his belt, as well as a victory in the Players Championship Finals, and runs to the finals of the World Grand Prix, Grand Slam, UK Open and European Championship, the World Matchplay is the only major which Anderson has not reached the final in.

The Scot takes on Blackpool debutant Christian Kist in his first round tie on Saturday, and is hoping this could be the year he makes it to the second Sunday at the Winter Gardens.

“I’ll be giving it my best but I’ve always seemed to struggle in Blackpool,” Anderson said.

“I’ve made the semis a couple of times but I’ve never really felt comfortable there.

“That might change this week, you never know. I’ll take each game as it comes and see what happens.”

Blackpool diary, part one: The calm before the storm as 32 of the world’s best get ready to go for the World Matchplay

Arriving to Blackpool this afternoon, ahead of the opening weekend of the 2017 World Matchplay, it certainly had the feel of the calm before the storm.

Tomorrow night, three of the top six players in the world will grace the Winter Gardens stage on the first night of the tournament, while a rejuvenated Michael Smith is also in action.

With Gary Anderson, Peter Wright and James Wade all set to be in action, the opening night of this year’s World Matchplay should provide plenty of fireworks.

Year after year the 32-player field for this summer major seems to get stronger and stronger. The first round sees the top 16 players on the PDC Order of Merit go up against the next top 16 players from the Pro Tour Order of Merit, and many are expecting seeds to tumble.

Back to Blackpool though, and I did manage to have a brief look outside the Winter Gardens upon my arrival into Lancashire. I stumbled upon it without even looking out for it, such was its proximity right in the seaside resort’s town centre.

I’ve only heard good things about the Winter Gardens from former and current players, as well as fans and fellow colleagues involved in the darting media, and tomorrow I’ll experience what it’s like inside the venue. I can’t wait!

*****

No sightings of any of the players from me, although with the first round again spread out over three days, it is likely that some of the players scheduled to play on Sunday and Monday won’t be heading to Blackpool until tomorrow.

However, it was hard not to spot the pink shirt of Peter Manley through one of the windows of the many hotels situated a stone’s throw away from the Winter Gardens. The three-time World Championship finalist, who also reached the final here in Blackpool back in 1999, was in exhibition mode as he took on locals at the oche.

One Dart’s playing days at the top of the sport may have been long gone, but he still attracts a good crowd on the exhibition circuit. One of the great characters in the history of the PDC, Manley was at Q-School in January, but was unsuccessful in winning a tour card back onto the main circuit.

*****

Among the many subplots going into this year’s World Matchplay is that of Phil Taylor, and this being his last ever campaign at the Winter Gardens.

The 16-time world champion has 15 World Matchplay titles to his name, and it was here at the Winter Gardens that he hit the first live televised nine darter in the UK back in 2002.

Taylor’s announcement at the start of this year that the 2017-18 season would be his last on the professional circuit means he goes into every tournament now knowing it will be his last chance to win it.

One player who won’t be wanting to see Taylor make it 16 titles in Blackpool is Gerwyn Price. The Welshman takes on Taylor in the first round on Sunday and today spelled out that he had no intentions of helping the sport’s most successful ever player bow out in style at the Winter Gardens.

In a response to the PDC’s tweet, ‘PREVIEW! Taylor looking to bow out in style at the Winter Gardens…’, Price replied ‘No chance’. Can the UK Open and World Cup finalist back up his words on Sunday night?

The Weekly Dartscast World Matchplay Preview Special with guests Stephen Bunting and Steve West

The Weekly Dartscast is out tomorrow morning with a World Matchplay Preview Special with guests Stephen Bunting and Steve West.

The 2017 BetVictor World Matchplay kicks off this weekend, with co-hosts Alex Moss and Burton DeWitt giving their preview of the tournament in this week’s episode, including their predicted semi-final line-ups and eventual winners!

Alex and Burton are joined by two players who will be among the 32-player field in Blackpool, as former BDO world champion Stephen Bunting and World Matchplay debutant Steve West call in to give their thoughts ahead of the tournament.

Bunting takes on world number one and the defending champion Michael van Gerwen in the first round and chats to the team about the game, as well as explaining his recent talk of quitting the sport, his switch over from the PDC in 2014 and much more.

West makes his bow on the Winter Gardens stage in the opening game on Saturday night when he takes on a back in-form Michael Smith. The world number 39 calls in to look ahead to his Blackpool debut, chat about his recent form, beating Phil Taylor at the World Grand Prix last year and his hopes for the rest of 2017.

Alex and Burton also review last week’s inaugural US Darts Masters, discussing Daryl Gurney’s run to his first TV final, as well as what this tournament could mean for the future of the PDC in America.

Listen to the podcast via the player above from 7am tomorrow (Thursday).

Subscribe to The Weekly Dartscast on iTunes here or download the episode here