Sunday, 8 December 2019's World Championship fantasy game - WIN DARTS STUFF

Going to go with almost exactly the same rules as last year - from the following players, you have 180 points with which to pick a minimum of five players and a maximum of twelve players (down from 15 last year) - you score points by doing the following:

Winning a set - 5 points
Winning a leg in a set you lose - 1 point
180 - 2 points
Checking out 121-160 - 2 points
Checking out 161-170 - 3 points
Nine dart finish - 9 points
(new for 2019-20) Beating a seed as an unseeded player - 5 points
(new for 2019-20) Beating a top 8 seed as either an unseeded player, or as a seed from 17 to 32 inclusive - 5 points

The players points values are as follows:

Entry details - you have until 5pm UK time (12pm EST, 6pm CET) on Friday the 13th to enter - this is two hours before the tournament kicks off. To enter, send an email with the following details to

- Your name (and/or username to be displayed in the leaderboard, if different)
- Your player selections
- A contact email address (if different to the one you're sending from)
- Tiebreaker: how many 180's will be thrown in this year's championship?

The overall winner will win £15 worth of Darts Corner vouchers - get yourself a cheap set of starter darts, stock up on flights/stems, put it towards a pricier set you were going to buy anyway, buy a dozen Mark Dudbridge posters if they still have them in stock, it's really up to you. I'm not in anyway affiliated with DC, this is coming out of my own pocket, but they've always been extremely reliable in my experience, and ship cheaply all over the world, so if you've never given them a try before I can certainly recommend them.

Reminder - email your selections in to

Probably should list some GDPR spiel - I'm using your contact email purely and solely to be able to email you the winnings if you win. That's it. Then I'll delete everything before Scott Mitchell's out of the BDO worlds.

Should follow with the remainder of the third quarter tonight, hopefully get the fourth quarter out on Monday/Tuesday, then bets as we go through the event.

As an aside, I know Ally Pally has a lot of German visitors, but do they really need to make them feel at home by using that proprietary card payment system they have at a lot of their football grounds, which is incompatible with the perfectly good contactless payment system that we have over here already? Cashless/tokenless is a good idea, sure, but this seems a bit silly really.

Worlds 10/16 - Cullen, Wilson, Kurz, Wattimena, Humphries, Petersen

2019 was a big year for Joe Cullen, where the perennial European Tour contender, who had come so close to getting a win on that circuit on so many occasions, finally managed to get the European Tour title that had eluded him for so long. In that event, Cullen beat Jamie Hughes, Willie O'Connor, Glen Durrant, James Wade and then the end boss that is Michael van Gerwen, doing things the hard way and showing what he'd threatened to do for so long. That got him nicely up into the European Tour standings, where in the finals he beat Mervyn King, but the lost to Rob Cross. That would be close to all he'd do in TV events, which is really what he's needing to do to maintain a top 16 position and even look to push up further - in the UK Open, Cullen would draw Gerwyn Price, awkward, but it happens. In the Matchplay and Grand Prix, he'd get Ian White on both occasions - the Grand Prix was somewhat close as it went all three sets, but the Matchplay was one to forget, as Cullen lost ten straight legs to be on the wrong end of a rare Blackpool whitewash. It was a rare year where winning on the European Tour wasn't enough to make the Grand Slam, so it just left Minehead at the end of the year for majors - Cullen got past Kyle Anderson, but Raymond van Barneveld would be too good. The floor wasn't bad for Cullen - one final, beating Price, Cross and Lewis before being comprehensively beaten by Peter Wright, and a further three runs to the quarters or better, while he'd also make two further quarter finals in Europe to add to his ranking money. His overall scoring isn't quite as good as his results, but when he's on form, he's got the game to push deep into any tournament.

It's not been a great year for James Wilson. Defending last 32 money from two years ago (where he lost to Michael van Gerwen without winning a leg), Wilson's had various ailments that have really prevented him making a serious attempt to hold his top 32 position, and was only just able to crawl over the line in the Pro Tour rankings as his scoring for the year dropped below 89, far below where it really needs to be for a top 32 player. What did Wilson manage to do this year? He wasn't close to the majors, only qualifying for the UK Open automatically, where he was destroyed against James Wade, and qualifying for Minehead a second time, where he had a wildly different two games - pulling off a stunning deciding leg upset against Peter Wright, then not winning another leg in the whole tournament as he lost to Chris Dobey in the second round. That second round appearance was from doing just about enough on the Pro Tour - while he had twelve first round exits, and missed the last four events, he was at least able to turn two of his three board wins into more than just the minimum, reaching one semi final in June, where he notably beat Gurney and de Sousa before Ratajski took him apart in the semi, and a quarter final three months later, beating Hopp, Ratajski and Durrant prior to being taken out by Jamie Hughes. His European qualification record was very patchy, but he at least made the final day on two of the three occasions he qualified - first as a promoted seed from nowhere, beating Mario Robbe before losing to Keegan Brown (who'd just opened up the draw by beating MvG), then much later in the season he beat Gavin Carlin and Steve Beaton prior to losing to Mensur Suljovic in his backyard. Hopefully he's over the worst of his problems and he can get back to some of the form he was showing a year or two ago.

Nico Kurz is a bit of a surprise debutant - when the German Superleague finals field was announced, I think most people expected Martin Schindler, as probably the strongest non-Cadby player that wasn't in the field already, to qualify comfortably. However, Kurz, still in his early 20's from the outskirts of Frankfurt, was able to gradually improve through the day, averaging 88 in the quarters against Manfred Bilderl which went all the way, just over 90 against Maik Langendorf, then nearly 95 in eliminating Schindler in the final to book his spot at Ally Pally. Not bad going, those games were all of a decent length (the quarters started at best of 15 and it increased from there) so it's no fluke. Kurz is probably best (only?) known to most viewers from his German Darts Masters run back in July - there, he caused a huge surprise by knocking out Gary Anderson 6-4 in the opening round, and then coming close to eventual winner Peter Wright in the quarter finals, Wright only able to get the sole break he needed over the course of the game. He clearly isn't going to be worried by a big stage if he can do that. It's a bit of a surprise that we didn't see him on the Development Tour at all, but we did see him get into one of the earlier European Tour events, where he took Kim Huybrechts all the way to a deciding leg before losing 6-5, a game which saw Nico miss several match darts. I'd say this would be just a case of gaining more big match experience, but this is winnable - if he can take this one, maybe he can then look to try more of the Development Tour in 2020 and gain a lot more floor experience.

Jermaine's continued to grow in stature and confidence in 2019, to the point where he's the Netherlands number two (at least in the official rankings, I'm sure de Zwaan, Noppert and possibly others might ask politely as to who's actually better) and got into their World Cup team. In a big surprise, Jermaine wasn't able to help MvG to the finals (and the free Grand Slam berth many thought was there for him) as they lost the deciding pairs to Ireland in the semi final, but apart from that big chance, 2019's been good to Jermaine. He's not quite been able to claim a title yet - two runners up spots, one right at the start of the year where he could get wins over Ian White and Peter Wright but go down to MvG, then another later in August, where he beat Clemens, Beaton and Suljovic, but Brendan Dolan would surprisingly prevent him getting the win. A huge string of quarter finals was below that level, and similarly in Europe, he's not been able to go really deep but is getting to the final day with some regularity. In the majors, he made somewhat of a breakthrough in the Grand Prix where he reached the quarters, beating Lewis and Wright but then losing a deciding set to Glen Durrant, he was able to reach the last sixteen at the UK Open, crushing de Zwaan and then edging out Woodhouse before Michael Smith was too strong, while he also won his opener in Göttingen against Jamie Hughes before de Zwaan would take revenge for that UK Open loss. Jamie Hughes and Mensur Suljovic aren't easy draws in the remaining two, maybe he'd have liked to perform better against Mensur at Blackpool, but everything carries on trending in the right direction for Jermaine.

It's been an interesting year for Luke following his quarter final run twelve months ago - going from his well documented anxiety issues at the start of the year that let him to think about giving the game up, to claiming the world youth title over a clearly hugely nervous Adam Gawlas on the Minehead stage. That would have given him a spot here, but he'd made it through the Pro Tour rankings, let's have a look at what he's done. Europe's been decent when he's got there - only three times, but he's won his first game on all three occasions, but couldn't quite get over the line to get to the real big money rounds, losing out in deciding legs twice, once to James Wade and once to Darren Webster. Luke was in the top 64 in the Players Championship rankings easily enough (although, through oddities of seedings, he got van Gerwen in the opening round in the finals with the expected results), Humphries winning his board four times in the second half of the season, with a peak of the quarters in June, beating Wade in the first round but eventually going out to James Wilson when the tournament was wide open to anyone. Humphries only other TV tournament before the world youth was the UK Open - getting a good win over Vincent van der Voort, before losing a very tight game to Dave Chisnall. In his last year as a youth (although what "youth" means has been the subject of much debate), Humphries of course won the big title, but took down three tour events, first over Greg Ritchie in June, then two on the final weekend over Ted Evetts and Geert Nentjes. Luke obviously likes this stage, and is doing the right things at the right time in preparation for this.

After what was a very bad 2018 for Devon Petersen, where his only real good performance was at the worlds, doing just about enough to save his card, Devon's performances are a lot better than they were twelve months ago, but his results are only marginally improved. The easy winner of the African qualifier, Petersen only made two TV singles appearances - in the UK Open he was unfortunate to draw Jamie Hughes first up, and at the Players Championship Finals, Devon put up a good effort against Ian White but wasn't able to reproduce the miracle performance he had at last year's worlds against him. As he got there, Devon had done just about enough (59th in out of 94) on the floor, he had one quarter final where he beat title winners in Harry Ward, Daryl Gurney and Jelle Klaasen before being overwhelmed by a rampant Peter Wright, and a couple more board wins along with a better record than not of winning his opening game, would be just enough. It's a good job there was the African qualifier though, with just two European Tour appearances, both ending in defeat to Mervyn King and Jamie Hughes, he would have been a fair distance off worlds qualification from the Pro Tour. Devon seems to bring his best game on this stage, and against the first round opponent he has, it's possible he may need to.

Worlds 9/16 - Cross, Huybrechts, Nentjes, Noppert, Lennon, Rydz

Hey guys, remember about six months ago when a bunch of people thought Cross might have been a one hit wonder? That disappeared pretty quickly, as 2019 saw Cross become a multiple time major winner, adding the Matchplay and the European Championship to the world title he won two years ago, and being somewhat unlucky not to add a third title of the year, finishing as the runner up in both the UK Open and the Premier League. Let's have a look at the wins first - the Matchplay saw easy enough wins against Chris Dobey and Krzysztof Ratajski, before getting through real tests against Stephen Bunting and Daryl Gurney to reach the final. Michael Smith would be his opponent there, and Cross got halfway to the finish line before Smith could register a leg, and while Smith would close the gap, the damage had been done already and Cross claimed the title. Göttingen would be the venue for his next big win, having a relatively easy run to the semis, before repeating his semi final win against Daryl Gurney, then turned over Gerwyn Price to gain a chalk in the competition for who's the second best player in the world. Cross seemed to just run out of steam against Nathan Aspinall, while in the other majors, he'd run into Durrant and Wright, tough draws to be fair, although maybe he could have done better in the Players Championship Finals when he lost to Mervyn King, preventing a possible tie against MvG in the quarters. It's perhaps a surprise that Cross has still not won a European Tour title, losing two close finals to Michael van Gerwen and Gerwyn Price, and he was also not able to reach a Pro Tour final, although at this stage Cross is managing his schedule and only played about half of the circuit. It's a good section of the draw, and Cross should be able to advance to at least the quarter finals, and who knows from there?

It's been another year of relative struggle for Kim Huybrechts - while his scoring hasn't dropped off to an enormous degree, he's now outside the top 32 in the world, as well as outside the range where he's been able to qualify for major events with any sort of frequency. What's he done this year? Five board finals on the Pro Tour is maybe a little bit below expectation, and the Belgian was only able to turn one of those runs into a quarter final run in Ireland - beating Aspinall on the way before falling to eventual winner Jose de Sousa. The European Tour wasn't a bad hunting ground, making two final days when he beat Pipe and Clayton, then Horvat and Wade, but only being able to qualify for five events didn't give him quite enough ammunition to make it all the way to Göttingen and the finals. Still, eleven grand on top of what he's done on the Pro Tour saw him safely into the worlds, albeit only in the first round. On TV, Huybrechts was only able to make it to the two events at Minehead - the UK Open might have been a missed opportunity when he lost to Simon Stevenson after beating Pete Hudson, while if he had won a deciding leg against Mensur Suljovic in the Players Championship Finals, the draw wasn't too bad from there. The differential in points between what he scores when he's winning and when he's losing gives some indication that Huybrechts has been a bit unlucky in some spots, if that can change at some point, Kim is the sort of player who can build momentum quickly, and maybe get back towards the sort of level he was at when he was a Premier League player.

For the second year in a row, Geert Nentjes has qualified for the World Championships through the Development Tour, the Dutchman being able to win two events on that tour over Shane McGuirk and Nathan Girvan. Those wins, coupled with another two finals where he lost to Jeffrey de Zwaan and Luke Humphries, were enough to see him finish a clear third behind Ted Evetts and Luke Humphries (who both qualified for the worlds through the Pro Tour), more than enough to reach Ally Pally. Through the Development Tour, Nentjes was the recipient of a tour card at the start of the year, but hasn't been able to make too much of an impression on the senior circuit to date. He did cash the UK Open, beating BDO worlds seed David Evans, young prospect Jarred Cole and then whitewashing Justin Pipe, before losing to Max Hopp, but aside from that it's been a year of learning, only winning his board on the Pro Tour once where he got past Jeffrey de Zwaan, and Geert wasn't able to qualify for the European Tour at all, but while he did get closer later in the season, he only made the final qualifying round twice. Last year, he was unfortunate to run into Nathan Aspinall, and while he's not going to be the favourite here, he should have a bit more of a fighting chance this year.

Danny Noppert's one of many younger players who are looking to force their way into the top 32 in the world, and the former Lakeside finalist has used his second season as a new tour card holder to just about get there, having done more than enough on the floor to start appearing in major events with some regularity. While Noppert wasn't able to add to the maiden title he got in 2018, he was able to make four semi finals on the floor, including two in one weekend, so he's putting himself into the positions where he may be able to add a second title in the near future. Of course, he was close to adding a TV title, albeit an unranked title - the World Series Finals, where he ran through Jeffrey de Zwaan and Gary Anderson, before edging Ian White and Dave Chisnall in deciding legs to reach the final against Michael van Gerwen. He'd lose that finals heavily, but it got him into the Grand Slam - although he should have done better and beaten Ryan Harrington to make the knockout stages. Noppert couldn't do enough in Europe to make the European Championships, but played everything else - maybe he could have done more in the UK Open when he lost to Mansell, wasn't too far off Gary Anderson in the opening round at Blackpool, but he did get a televised win over Daryl Gurney in Dublin, and nearly was able to advance further, falling only to Nathan Aspinall. Danny lost a decider to Mensur Suljovic at Minehead most recently, but there's enough of a combination of decent results and high level underlying stats to make him a solid favourite to reach the last 32 and give Cross something to worry about once there.

Another younger player looking to get towards the top 32 in 2019 was Steve Lennon, but after losing out to Alan Norris in an upset twelve months ago, his career has somewhat stalled - outside of the miracle World Cup final run with Willie O'Connor which got Steve into the Grand Slam. That sort of TV experience that he's gained is close to all he's had this year - he did alright in the UK Open, only being stopped by the eventual champion in a close game after knocking out James Richardson, Stephen Bunting and Mickey Mansell, but his only other wins on TV were over Wesley Harms and James Wade in the Grand Slam (where he lost out on leg difference and didn't make the knockouts) - he only just made Minehead for a second time and lost easily to Ratajski in the opening round. It's all about floor form - on the Pro Tour, Lennon would only win his board once right at the start of the year, only just scraping through to here by making it through the opening round more often than not, and making four European events - Lennon would beat Kevin Munch and Jamie Bain in back to back weeks in his first two to reach the seeds, but could only pick up two legs combined against Michael van Gerwen and Peter Wright, but had a shocking 6-0 loss to Dennis Nilsson where he simply couldn't score, and then getting Michael Smith in the opening round was what could be called an unfortunate draw. Getting the draw he's got gives him somewhat of a chance of kickstarting things for 2020, he's just got to reclaim the form he had in 2018.

Callan Rydz will make his debut after finishing on top of the Challenge Tour, claiming two victories on that circuit to finish less than a grand ahead of Jesus Noguera, but for Rydz, who's come agonisingly close to winning a tour card on each of the last two seasons at Q-School, any margin of victory will be perfectly fine for the North East native. That win not only gets him here, but it gets him his tour card for the next two seasons. This season, Rydz was able to get his Challenge Tour wins over David Evans and Cody Harris, both very capable operators, and he was also able to pick up a win in the Development Tour, that one over Luke Humphries. Rydz was within striking distance of the world youth finals as well, but while he averaged 100 in beating Jarred Cole and 95 in winning a decider against Nathan Rafferty, he'd fall at the quarter final stage to Adam Gawlas. What of the senior circuit? His Challenge Tour results mostly came later in the year, so it wasn't until more than halfway through the season when he was able to get into Pro Tour events, and managed to win his board three times in that timeframe - getting some notable scalps in Clemens, Durrant, van Barneveld, Dobey, Beaton, Dolan... we've seen enough to date to think that Rydz certainly has the upside to cause damage in this event, and has the draw to make that happen as well.

Worlds 8/16 - Lewis, Reyes, Ilagan, Webster, Meikle, Yamada

It seems quite a long time ago since Adrian Lewis was a Premier League regular on the back of his two world titles, and there's not been a great deal in 2019 to suggest that he's heading back towards a top ten level. He still has a decent enough peak game - you don't win a Pro Tour by being bad at the game, in that event he beat Glen Durrant and Jonny Clayton before finishing off Raymond van Barneveld in the final, and has been able to get into the business end of lots of floor tournaments, but his record in television events haven't been what someone of Lewis's undoubted talents would be expecting. The only real good performance Lewis has had on TV this season was in the Grand Slam - which he needed to qualify for - but once there he was able to defeat Ross Smith and Jim Williams to get through a group including Michael van Gerwen, who'd easily knock him out in the quarter finals, but not before Lewis got through a last sixteen deciding leg against James Wade. In the other TV events, it was nothing but disappointments - losing to the woefully out of form Jamie Lewis in his opening match at the UK Open, only picking up four legs against Glen Durrant at Blackpool, losing a deciding set to Jermaine Wattimena at Dublin, only picking up one leg against Simon Whitlock in Göttingen before a tough second round draw against van Gerwen at Minehead. He could do with a good run here to try to consolidate his ranking, and his opposing seed is an excellent chance, that is if he can avoid an opening game banana skin against whoever comes through the qualifiers round.

Much like it seems a long time ago since Lewis was in Premier League contention, it seems a long time ago when Reyes was at his peak and arguably the strongest player on the tour without some form of ranking title. This year has seen the Spaniard continue to struggle to some extent, although with two quarter finals in the last five Pro Tour events, perhaps there's some signs that he's starting to turn things around. In those he got a couple of good wins against Glen Durrant and Jamie Hughes, and while it was mostly just enough to get him into the worlds for a sixth time, at the very least it'll give him a good platform to try to get back into the majors he was appearing in with some regularity a couple of seasons ago. It's 99% the Pro Tour that's got Reyes here, making twelve board finals, as Reyes' record for making European Tour events was abysmal, only reaching one event where he could only beat a domestic qualifier before going out to Simon Whitlock, and that'll need to improve next year. Reyes' record on the Pro Tour got him into Minehead, where he was outclassed by Chris Dobey in the opening round, but his previous appearance at the venue was much better, reaching the last 16 of the UK Open with good wins over Ryan Joyce and Richard North, prior to running into Rob Cross. His numbers aren't too far off those of Lewis, so maybe if he is trending in the correct direction he could give the Stoke player some troubles.

That is, of course, if Reyes can get past the Asian Tour winner in Lourence Ilagan. He's making his fourth appearance at the world championship, ending up in a high quality affair against Vincent van der Voort, and if he can replicate that level of play this time around he will have every chance of progressing into the second round, and maybe further. Ilagan won three titles on the Asian Tour circuit, the highlight being the second where he averaged over 110 in a final win over World Cup partner Noel Malicdem (in that event, they had an unfortunate draw against England), which was enough to claim the top spot on the Asian Tour. Ilagan's averages over the whole of the tour weren't quite as high as the other players to make it here through the Asian Tour - a tour long 85 average was near eight points lower than Malicdem, so he may need to up his game if he's going to get past Cristo.

Another player who faced van der Voort last season was Darren Webster, who's had quite simply an awful 2019, dropping out of the top sixteen in the world, and having a weak enough set of floor performances that not only did he not qualify for the Grand Prix, he didn't even finish in the top 64 that qualified for the Players Championship finals. Webster only managed to win his board on two occasions during the entire year and failed to cash on seventeen occasions, an alarming decline in form which begs the question as to whether it's only downhill from here. He's had a couple of unlucky draws in the majors he did play in - Rob Cross in the UK Open and Krzysztof Ratajski at the Matchplay, then while he did qualify for the European Championship, having got enough points on the board early in the season while he was still seeded, he'd run into Rob Cross again there. Probably the only bright spot was qualifying for the Grand Slam - taking out a resurgent Justin Pipe in the qualifiers, then scraping through the group stages with a narrow win over Gary Anderson in the final game - only to then lose 10-1 to Gerwyn Price in the knockout stages. It's hard to say whether that's enough to say he's got any real chance of getting any sort of decent run together in this event - maybe he can get through the first match, but that might be the realistic limit of what he can do in this event.

One possible opponent for Webster is youngster Ryan Meikle, who's been on our radar for a few years now having first won his tour card in 2016, but it's only this year where he's first been able to qualify for the worlds, just doing enough through the Pro Tour, but he also did enough on the Development Tour in claiming two titles that he had that as a backup method. Meikle's best run on the floor this year was a quarter final in the middle of the season, where he notably beat Peter Wright, and he was able to add another six board finals, picking up towards the end of the year - it was enough to make Minehead, where he whitewashed Jonny Clayton and edged out Darius Labanauskas before running into an inspired Stephen Bunting. He'd not be able to cash the UK Open, losing to Joe Murnan, but he was very close to a possible Grand Slam berth in 2020 - only coming one match short of the world youth final, losing out to Adam Gawlas having earlier beaten Martin Schindler and Justin van Tergouw, amongst others. Meikle is very close to retaining his tour card - one win might be enough to do it, two wins should make things absolutely safe, and he's certainly in with a shout of doing so.

Meikle will face Yuki Yamada in the opening round, the Japanese player finishing fifth on the Asian Tour, but getting in after Seigo Asada did his usual thing of winning the Japanese qualifier, just because he can, so an extra spot was freed up, allowing Yamada to make his world championship debut. Yamada's been around for a while, his dartsdatabase record dating back to 2006, but it's only the last few years, particularly since the inception of the Asian Tour, that he's really arrived on larger scenes. We first noticed him in 2015 when Asia still had a World Series event, there he lost 6-2 to Gary Anderson, then the next couple of years he had minor attempts at the UK circuit - trying Q-School twice, the first year being not bad, the second year being a bit worse, while in 2017 he was also a win or two away from making the UK Open through the pro qualifiers. This year, he won one of the Asian Tour events, beating Paul Lim in a deciding leg, and made a further final where he lost to Lourence Ilagan. Yamada's averages on the Asian Tour are a concern - 82 overall barely sees him scrape into the top 20, and if that's indicative of his actual level of play, Yamada could be in for a long night against the young Englishman.

Worlds 7/16 - Smith, Woodhouse, Lim, van den Bergh, Payne, Portela

With Michael Smith having made the final of the previous year's worlds, it was surely just a matter of time before he would finally claim the first major title of his career. Well, we're still waiting, but there is still very much the feeling that it's not a case of if Smith claims a major title, but when. How close has he been this year? Pretty close. Let's look at the majors - the UK Open was an event where he was working through some sort of injury, so to get to the semi final has to be somewhat of a decent result, with the slog of a final day finally stopping at the penultimate hurdle to Rob Cross. It'd be Cross that would do him in Blackpool as well - it looked quite close before the game, but Cross was to win the first nine legs to end the final before it even started. Perennial rival Ian White would drop him out of the Grand Prix, while he was lucky to even be in the European Championship (he needed a result in the last event in Gibraltar to qualify after a string of first match losses when seeded, which do not count towards order of merits), he'd run into Gerwyn Price at the wrong time, Glen Durrant would stop him in the Grand Slam, while Ian White again stopped him in the Players Championship finals. We've mentioned the struggles he's had on the European Tour, elsewhere on the floor Smith has surprisingly not managed to pick up a title, but has generally been fine apart from that. He's probably fallen a bit behind the likes of Price and Cross this year, but when it clicks he's still capable of beating anyone.

Luke Woodhouse makes his world championship debut after a good floor season has put him probably within one win of retaining his tour card. He's a name that was probably unknown to most casual fans until very recently, where he was able to hold his game together in a deciding leg at Minehead to eliminate Daryl Gurney on his first TV game. While that appeared a shock, it wasn't that much of a surprise if you've seen what Woodhouse has been able to do on the floor, particularly earlier in the season. His best run on the floor was just before the summer break where he reached a quarter final, knocking out Stephen Bunting amongst others, and earlier won his board twice, knocking out van Barneveld and Whitlock in back to back games in one event. Those were the main peaks, but it was consistency that got him through to Minehead at the end of the year, not having many first round losses kept the prize money ticking over. While he did beat Gurney at Minehead, Gabriel Clemens was too strong in the last 32, but this wasn't the first time he'd reached that stage at that venue - the UK Open was an early feather in his cap, coming from early in the tournament to beat Chris Dobey, before coming close to taking out Jermaine Wattimena. Woodhouse additionally picked up some more stage experience in Europe - winning through two qualifiers in one day got him to the Netherlands and Denmark, Mervyn King and Willie O'Connor being not the easiest of draws, but in Riesa he did get a win over a domestic qualifier before going out to Steve Beaton. If he can retain his card it'll be something he'll want to build on, but one step at a time.

At the other end of the experience spectrum is Paul Lim, who was playing in world championships before Woodhouse was born and hit his famous nine darter when Woodhouse was one year old! Lim's making his 24th world championship appearance, twelve on each side of the divide, and is showing no signs of slowing down with another good season on the Asian Tour, during which he won two events and reached the final of two more, defeating Kai Fan Leung and Xiaochen Zong, but losing out to Royden Lam (while averaging 105) and Yuki Yamada. Lim finished second in the averages table on that tour to Noel Malicdem, ending just a shade under 90, which considering the relative level of play on that tour is probably an underestimate of where his level of play is still at. I'd take a guess that he's likely the underdog to Woodhouse, but not by much at all. We can get some sort of read from the World Cup, where Lim was one half of the Singapore team that eliminated Wales in the pairs, and while they would go out to Japan in the next round, Lim was close to defeating Seigo Asada to force a pairs match, and we know how good Asada can be.

2019's been the year when Dimitri has finally become too old to play on the Development Tour and the twice youth world champion has needed to concentrate solely on the senior circuit, and it's also been the year where he's finally started to make breakthroughs on the floor, the likes of which have previously prevented him from making more major tournaments and really rising through the rankings. While he is still wildly inconsistent - he still has too many legs where he simply fails to score as much as he can do, that he's been able to reach two Pro Tour finals is at least showing that he is able to play consistently enough on a single day, which is a start. In the first final, he beat Dobey, Wade and Cross before losing to Durrant, and in the second he defeated Cullen and White before losing a deciding leg to Krzysztof Ratajski. While that upturn in floor form wasn't quite early enough to make the Matchplay, he did sneak into the Grand Prix as a result, pushing Mervyn King very close, and did enough on the European Tour to get into the finals, mainly through more consistent qualification. He'd lose to Chisnall there, but qualifying for these events, at least in comparison to previous years, is the key thing. In other events, a last sixteen run in the UK Open was a solid performance, beating Ricky Evans and holding it together in a deciding leg against Mensur Suljovic before losing to Steve Beaton, and he appeared in the Grand Slam again, but lost to Robert Thornton in a group he should have advanced from. Most recently, he drew Stephen Bunting at Minehead, a case of bad timing given Bunting found his best form. He should be able to at least get up to Smith here, and then continue to build in 2020.

It's a second straight year at the worlds for Josh Payne, and his third appearance overall, qualifying through the Pro Tour again despite a relative lack of standout performances. Last season he was nearly able to knock out Dave Chisnall, and he'll hope to be able to push a seed close again this year, if not get further. Payne's best performance this year was clearly in the UK Open, where Josh was able to reach a first major quarter final after defeating Jamie Bain, getting a crushing win over Kyle Anderson, then knocking out Jamie Lewis and Simon Whitlock before Rob Cross would be too much for him to overcome in a 10-7 loss. His only other major performance would be at Minehead, where he lost in an ill-tempered affair to Adrian Lewis in the opening round. So what of Payne's floor form? Josh was able to qualify for five European Tour events, which is fine in itself, but only managed to get the one win once in those tournaments over Jyhan Artut - losses to de Zwaan, Boulton, McGeeney and Rowby John Rodriguez are probably not what he would be expecting, and you'd have thought he could get through at least a couple of those. On the Pro Tour, Josh didn't make a quarter final all year, but was consistent enough to win his first round game 70% of the time, pushing through to the board final on eight occasions. Those all added up to a comfortable enough qualification, but it's very different from his previous efforts which were primarily based on Pro Tour wins.

It's also a third appearance in the worlds for Diogo Portela, who is continuing to fight to get a tour card, but for now is reliant on the South American qualifier to gain big stage experience. Last year, Portela made a great effort in his preliminary game against Ron Meulenkamp, losing a deciding set, and will be hoping to do better this time around - he certainly has a chance. With no card, Portela's been playing the Challenge Tour, where he got an early semi final run, which allowed Diogo to get into the first Pro Tour weekend, where in the opening event he won his board, knocking out Gerwyn Price and, ironically, Josh Payne, before going out to Harry Ward, and he did make one other board final later in the year. Portela was able to win through the associates qualifier to make three early European Tour appearances, losing out to Mervyn King, Karel Sedlacek and Ryan Searle, and he was unlucky to draw Jamie Hughes in the UK Open, having beaten Barrie Bates in the first round but falling one round short of the money. Diogo has also played some of the BDO circuit, putting up decent enough performances to rank well within their top 100, hitting a best performance on their circuit of a semi final in Northern Ireland a couple of months ago.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Worlds 6/16 - Aspinall, Boulton, Baggish, Ratajski, Hughes, Lerchbacher

The questions of whether Nathan Aspinall's semi final run was a fluke were answered very quickly, when the Stockport native was able to clinch a first major title by taking the UK Open and put himself very much into the conversation for a Premier League spot in 2020. The UK Open win came with a close semi final win over Gerwyn Price before defeating Rob Cross in the final, having taken out Alcinas, Kist, Razma, Lennon and Ross Smith in previous rounds. Aspinall would add a second TV title later in the year, while the US Darts Masters isn't a ranking event or anywhere near as prestigious, it's still a win, Aspinall having beaten Cross, right and Michael Smith to get the victory. Elsewhere, Aspinall's been impressive - coming close to picking up another Pro Tour win on three occasions, being only stopped by O'Connor, Ratajski and Gurney, and making the final session on the European Tour four times, peaking with a semi final in Gibraltar where he eliminated Michael van Gerwen and Peter Wright, prior to losing a decider against Dave Chisnall. In the other majors, he'd suffer a surprise defeat to Mervyn King in Blackpool, get to the quarter finals in Dublin with wins over van der Voort and Noppert prior to losing to Dave Chisnall again, run into Gerwyn Price in the second round at Göttingen, end up in the group of death in the Grand Slam against Michael Smith and Glen Durrant, before most recently getting Raymond van Barneveld in the opening round at Minehead, losing to the veteran Dutchman. Can he repeat what he did twelve months ago? It's a tough draw, but who knows?

Andy Boulton makes a return to Ally Pally after a four year absence - on that occasion he won a preliminary game against Per Laursen before going out to Gary Anderson, this time he's got a first round tie before possibly facing another major winner. Boulton won his tour card back in January on the Q-School order of merit, and qualifies for here after a solid floor season, winning his board six times and reaching three quarter finals. In those quarter final runs, Boulton was able to get notable victories over Gerwyn Price, Mervyn King and Joe Cullen, and was consistent enough to get through his opening game 70% of the time. This was a good enough level of performance to see Boulton make a second visit to Minehead - the first time he was just able to mincash the UK Open, taking out a qualifier before losing to Christian Kist, while in the Players Championship Finals, Boulton would be defeated by Keegan Brown in the opening round. In terms of stage form, Andy was able to reach three European Tour events - the first time, he got a win against Josh Payne before going out to Daryl Gurney, but in the next two he'd lose to Vincent van der Voort, understandable given Vincent's form, but in the final event he'd lose to qualifier Steffen Siepmann, which is one you'd think he could have avoided. Can he put together enough of an improved performance to get past someone of Aspinall's quality?

Boulton's opponent will be the first player to have qualified for the worlds in Danny Baggish, who won the North American Championship by defeating Elliott Milk, Leonard Gates and then former Lakeside finalist Jeff Smith to qualify. A consistent average in the mid to high 80's would see him take the final two matches in deciding legs, and he'd score a bit higher in the following US Darts Masters, albeit his 92 average was no doubt helped by Daryl Gurney limiting him to just the one leg in the match. It was a bit of a surprise performance, Baggish previously only being a competitor in minor regional events, although looking at one of those he's played this year afterwards, the Witch City Open, he was able to put up ton-plus averages in the quarters and semi final, and similarly in the CDC event he won - averaging 95 over the course of the event with consistency in the later rounds. A regional event got him into the World Masters, where he was able to take down European Tour competitor Wesley Plaisier and push through to the last 64, where he was taken out by veteran Gary Stone in a deciding set. Maybe Baggish is the great hope that'll start off an upturn in North American darts? He certainly appears to have the game to at least have a chance of getting through the opening round.

2019 was another year of improvement for the Polish number one, with Krzysztof reaching a new high by becoming the most recent player to become a winner on the European Tour when he claimed the title in Gibraltar - losing no more than three legs in any game as he went through Steve Beaton, Joe Cullen, Ian White, Daryl Gurney and Dave Chisnall. The £25k prize really helped to establish Ratajski in the top 32 and push him towards the higher ends of the Pro Tour order of merit, a ranking that his top ten level scoring indicates is no fluke whatsoever. His floor form wasn't limited to that one European Tour performance - four Pro Tour finals, two of them ending in victory over Dimitri van den Bergh and Nathan Aspinall. Ratajski's floor form, which has been known about for some time, is slowly being turned into TV results - the UK Open saw a good run that was only stopped by Gerwyn Price, he got a win over Darren Webster at Blackpool before running into eventual winner Rob Cross, he'd get a tough draw in Dublin and lose in the opening round to Glen Durrant, while maybe he could have done better in the last couple when he lost to Chris Dobey and Willie O'Connor. It's now a question of whether Ratajski can make a deep run in the biggest one of all, and will certainly want to improve from last year where he lost in the opening game to Seigo Asada.

One of Ratajski's potential opponents is also a European Tour winner in Jamie Hughes. After Hughes was a surprise failure to win a tour card in 2018, he demolished the field in 2019 to claim his card on day one with huge averages, but what could he do after that? He started off well enough, getting through to several European Tour events, making a decent enough run in the UK Open with wins over Callan Rydz and Ian White, before Gerwyn Price eventually took him out, and would slowly improve in performances - in the German Open Hughes would beat Brendan Dolan and Simon Whitlock before losing to Gerwyn Price, then two events later he reached the semi finals - beating Adrian Lewis, Mark McGeeney and Nathan Aspinall before falling to Peter Wright, then he'd make a first floor quarter final a week before the Czech Open - needing a win and only a win to make the Matchplay, it's exactly what Hughes did, beating Devon Petersen, whitewashing Adrian Lewis, then a run of Sunday wins over Ron Meulenkamp, Ian White, Simon Whitlock and Stephen Bunting saw him secure enough to finish as the highest Pro Tour qualifier for Ally Pally. Hughes hasn't quite been able to make any TV progress since then - Michael Smith and Michael van Gerwen were tough draws, Jermaine Wattimena was maybe a winnable game, after qualifying for the Grand Slam he ended in a group with Dave Chisnall and Rob Cross, and it'd be Cross again who'd take out Hughes at Minehead but not until after Hughes had avenged the European Championship defeat to Wattimena. Hughes' form isn't quite as good now as it was six months ago, but if he can rediscover it, a second round match with Ratajski could be one of the matches of the tournament.

Hughes will play a tour card holder (for now, it'll take a miracle run to save it) in Zoran Lerchbacher, the Austrian making a fourth appearance here and a first for a couple of years, in his last appearance he'd stun Mervyn King before pushing Keegan Brown very close. This year, he's here on account of winning his regional qualifier, putting in his best performance of the year when he needed it most, averaging over 90 in the last three rounds with wins over John Michael, Alessio Marconi and finally hot prospect Rusty Jake Rodriguez in a deciding leg, hitting a 107 out with Rodriguez waiting on 50. Lerchbacher's a previous multiple Pro Tour finalist, but has looked nothing like that form in 2019 - Zoran didn't reach a single European Tour event, only getting as far as the final round of qualifiers on one occasion, and on the Pro Tour, Lerchbacher won his board on just the one occasion, made his board final in just three further tournaments, and was knocked out in the first round nearly two thirds of the time. His averages aren't as bad as his results, 88 points per turn isn't too shabby, but should still be outclassed against someone of Hughes' calibre. Needless to say Lerchbacher had no luck in qualifying for majors he wasn't automatically entered in, but did at least get to the World Cup quarters with Suljovic, picking up a win in the last 16 over Darin Young, and showed up in the UK Open, but a draw against Gabriel Clemens would be too much of an ask.

Worlds 5/16 - Anderson, Dolan, Kumar, West, Searle, King

It's always difficult to know what to make of how Gary Anderson is playing, as he usually plays somewhat of a limited schedule - this year, like many previously, he has completely ignored the European Tour, however the injury that forced him out of the Premier League restricted him even further, with Anderson not playing a single event between reaching the semi final of the worlds last season and the UK Open, where he was on the wrong end of a surprising result against Steve Beaton. Anderson would pick up the World Cup with Peter Wright, but in between then he'd play a few Pro Tour events with bad results, going out early to Vincent van der Voort, Conan Whitehead, Geert Nentjes and a 6-0 tonking from his World Cup partner. He'd beat Noppert in the Matchplay before losing to King, beat Brown in Dublin but then lose to Dobey, then in the only other major he's played, he'd just win his group, beat Thornton in a surprisingly close game, but then lose heavily in a rerun of last season's final. A couple of OK Pro Tour runs in July and September aren't exactly confidence filling, but while his underlying numbers aren't bad, you do wonder whether we've already seen the last of peak Anderson and it's only downhill from here.

What Anderson probably didn't want was a test from an in form player, and in Brendan Dolan (if Brendan wins his opening match) you've got exactly that. You had some inkling that he was getting back to his best from his worlds run last season, where he got the scalps of Cullen, King and van de Pas, but I don't think anyone would have expected Dolan to claim not one, but two, Pro Tour titles. That's impressive stuff and they've both come at the right end of the season, in those events he beat de Zwaan, Dobey, Chisnall, Durrant, Wattimena, Price, Wright, White - these weren't fluke runs where you picked off one good player and had an easy draw, Brendan had to work like hell for these and got it done. It was all a bit too late in the season for Brendan to get into any of the majors that look at the Pro Tour - it was more than enough to get into Minehead, where he went out to Michael Smith in the second round in a scrappy affair, but it sets up 2020 really nicely as he looks to push back up the rankings. He did come through the Grand Slam qualifiers, but lost an effective playoff for a last 16 spot to Daryl Gurney, and of course he played the UK Open, winning his first game before what looks now to be a big upset win from Richard North put him out. He was quite close to getting into the European Championship, but couldn't quite rack up enough wins, only getting one win over a seed, but hey, Brendan's back and could do some damage here.

Dolan's opponent will be Nitin Kumar, who's back for another pop at the worlds after winning the Indian qualifier for a second straight year. We didn't know what to make of him twelve months ago, as data was very, very limited, and not a massive amount has changed, except we at least saw him open up proceedings against Jeffrey de Zwaan, not winning a set but at least picking up some legs and certainly not showing the sort of performance that many people might have feared would happen. Nitin stopped around for Q-School, an interesting choice but I suppose useful to see where you stack up against people fighting to get onto the tour, where he lost 5-3 to James Barton averaging 78, 5-3 to Chas Barstow averaging 77, he'd beat Rohit Rabadia 5-2 with a 78 average before going out 5-2 to Jason Askew averaging 71, then on the final day he'd have his best average, getting 82 in a deciding leg win over Barry Gardner, but then lost the next game to Nathan Rafferty back down in the mid 70's. I think it's fair to say we've got a good idea what Nitin's going to bring - if you let him have six visits to win a leg, he might nick it, give him seven and he probably takes it, but putting up the sort of performance that can trouble Dolan over a best of five set match isn't something he's going to be able to do.

It's been a year of regression for Steve West, I think it's reasonable to say - after a couple of year period where he established himself among the top 32 in the worlds and became a regular name in the TV majors, West has had enough decent scores drop off his ranking money that he just missed Blackpool, then if that happens you're almost certainly going to miss Dublin as well, and as a result he's holding a seeding position primarily on form from 2018, and this suddenly becomes an important event with him defending last 16 money from two seasons ago. It's not been a dreadful year, three Pro Tour semi finals and a quarter final as well isn't terrible, in the most recent one he beat Peter Wright and Gary Anderson, in the earlier semis he was able to eliminate Gurney and Aspinall, but a points per turn score under 90 isn't really where he'd like to be at. The floor form was enough to get him to Minehead, where he ran into an inspired Willie O'Connor, but he couldn't build anything else beyond that really - he'd not have a good run in Europe, missing out in the final round of qualifying was his most common result, and when he did qualify, he'd get tough draws - Mickey Mansell, Chris Dobey, Mervyn King and Jeffrey de Zwaan all put him out first round, the only time he got a fairly easy draw, he took out Daniel Larsson, then Jamie Hughes, but Richard North was surely a game he'll look back at and think what he could have done different. Of course, West played the UK Open, he beat Ryan Searle, but Ross Smith prevented West from making the last sixteen.

Speaking of Ryan Searle, he's one of West's possible opponents in round two, with the south westerner returning for a second appearance, where he'll hope to repeat his performance from twelve months ago with a notable upset victory over Mensur Suljovic. This season hasn't been too bad, although his form has soured somewhat with seven first round defeats in the last ten Players Championship events - not where Searle would like to be in the build up to the world championships. Searle started out the year well, making quarter finals three times in the first four weekends of the Pro Tour, in that spell taking out Ian White, Steve West, Jamie Hughes, Joe Cullen and Krzysztof Ratajski, and also have a qualification double on the European Tour, winning his first round game both times over Glen Durrant and Diogo Portela, and would benefit from a bye in the second event, but lose the next game on each occasion. That'd be the peak of what Searle did in 2019, his only other board win immediately preceded the qualification double, and he wouldn't make another European Tour event all year. He'd got enough on the board early to make the Players Championship finals, and had darts to beat Danny Noppert but couldn't take them - that left just the UK Open as Ryan's only other major appearance - Searle will hope to use this tournament to overturn his defeat to West in that event.

Searle will face off against Robbie King, who is making his World Championship debut following his win of the Oceanic Masters, one of the Australasian continent's premier events that's worked as a feeder to the worlds for several years now. Previous winners include both the Anderson brothers, Simon Whitlock and King is the latest, winning through over Mark Cleaver, Gordon Mathers and Steve Fitzpatrick in the later stages. King was averaging in the mid to high 80's in those games, a similar average to what he was able to manage overall in his three DPA tour wins - one in the low 90's over fellow worlds competitor Ben Robb, one in the low 80's the day after over Fitzpatrick, and the last one at 85 over another worlds competitor, Damon Heta. That's a bit better than what King was able to manage in his only TV appearance of the year, where he dropped into the 70's in a 6-2 defeat to Rob Cross, although what might have happened if King was able to nick three legs where he had a dart at double, then maybe it'd have been a different story. If it's the case where King simply had some TV debut nerves (understandable - King was in the World Youth Championship as recently as 2016 so is still fairly young), which have now gone, he may have enough to push Searle all the way given Ryan's recent form.

Worlds 4/16 - White, Labanauskas, Edgar, Hopp, Clemens, van de Pas

It's been another great year for Ian White - now firmly entrenched in the top ten by any reasonable metric, not only has he continued to play with the same form on the floor that sees him continually rated as one of the best players in that format, he's also started to do a bit more on TV, which is the only thing that really kept White out of the Premier League last season, and may be the undoing of him again this year - that said, there are more things in his favour this time around. Most importantly, he's finally broken that quarter final issue in reaching the semis at Minehead just a couple of weeks ago, narrow tense wins against Petersen and van der Voort would be followed by a demolition job on Michael Smith and a last leg decider against Willie O'Connor to win his quarter. An 11-8 loss to van Gerwen isn't bad at all, he was averaging 102, but the psychological barrier has gone now. While he's oddly not won a Pro Tour event, he did reach four straight European Tour finals - winning the second two, notably over van Gerwen in the Netherlands, the other also being a deciding leg win against Peter Wright in Sindelfingen. Could White have done more on TV to make a better Premier League case? Possibly, Jamie Hughes in the UK Open was a horrible draw at that point in the year, but he probably should have put Stephen Bunting away at Blackpool, losing a deciding set against Chris Dobey in Dublin was very disappointing, while in the European Championship he got an unplayable Michael Smith, and in the Grand Slam, group tiebreakers gave him van Gerwen instead of Adrian Lewis, and couldn't push a 6-4 lead into a win. I think if White can get to the quarters here he's got every shot at a Premier League berth, and he's definitely not going to fear his probable quarter final opponent.

It's not been a bad first season on tour for Labanauskas, once he actually got on tour - his first three days at Q-School were pretty horrific, and he more or less needed to bink the final day to get a card, which he did. Once he did though, he's had a few notable runs. Making a final of a Pro Tour is hard to do, he was annihilated by Glen Durrant when he got there, but he needed to beat Clemens, Brooks, Reyes, Beaton, Meikle and Meulenkamp to get into that position. This was one event after he had nearly made a final - Stephen Bunting putting him out 7-5. Those two results were enough to put him into the Players Championship finals - he beat Harry Ward in a deciding leg there, but lost to Ryan Meikle by the same scoreline in the next round. Aside from those two runs, Labanauskas wasn't able to do enough to really threaten major qualification - despite apparently having two shots at a few European Tour events (one through the tour card holder qualifier and one through the Nordic/Baltic qualifier), he only made two of them, the first being decent where he put out Rasztovits and Evans before losing to Gerwyn Price, the second not so much where he got a horror draw against Jose de Sousa, and only one other board win all year left him with just the UK Open - where he lost in the first round to Scott Taylor. Still, we all saw last year what he can do on his day.

And last year, Labanauskas beat Matt Edgar in the opening round. By a bizarre twist of fate, we get a rematch of that one, and while many will know Matt as the genius behind the Youtube juggernaut that is Edgar TV, let's talk about his darts for a second. Last year he got in as the last man in from the Pro Tour, this season he wasn't quite able to do that, despite doing enough on the Pro Tour to make the Players Championship Finals, where, while he'd got a tough draw against Dave Chisnall, he was a bit disappointing and a clear second best. He wouldn't have needed a huge amount from the European Tour to qualify by right, he was after all only a grand behind Mickey Mansell in the final rankings, but just making three and losing first round wasn't enough. Ratajski in one was a tough draw to be fair, but Edgar got it to a deciding leg, but Scott Taylor and James Richardson are probably opportunities missed, as are arguably last qualifying round losses to Pipe, O'Connor and West, any of which might have made the difference. Edgar did cash the UK Open, losing to Ryan Searle, but he was left to come through the PDPA qualifier, which he obviously did - Kanik, Eastwood, Bunse and Hunt isn't as trivial a route as you might think, but Edgar got through, and has the chance to rectify last season's opening round defeat.

Hard to say what to make of Hopp's 2019. He's managed to push up the rankings a bit, although a lot of that is surely to do with 2017 being a horror year and not defending much of anything, but has he really progressed at all? It's questionable if he's still Germany's best player at this stage. Let's have a look - in the UK Open, Hopp beat Geert Nentjes then lost to Wade - this seems fine. Between that and the Matchplay, he'd have his two best runs of the year - getting a fairly kind draw in Munich, but losing a semi final to Simon Whitlock, probably one of the better chances to make a final you're going to get, then a month later he'd reach another Pro Tour final - again, not a bad draw, with McGeeney, possible opponent van de Pas, Wattimena, Tabern, Noppert and Thornton being his route to the final, but he'd lose the final in a deciding leg to Harry Ward. You're not going to get too many better chances than that, and he missed it. He did put Dave Chisnall out of the Matchplay and force Michael Smith into added legs, which is decent, but from there it's been a bit barren, after dropping out of the Euro Tour seeds he'd not have a good qualification record at all (and do little once he got through) and miss the European Championship, he'd reach only one further quarter final on the floor, he'd hit Peter Wright in Dublin, which was incredibly bad timing given Wright's return to form, then at Minehead he'd get through a grind of a game against Klaasen before losing a decider to Glen Durrant. I don't think he's really progressed, and is back to having the potential to go on streaky runs without really being that convincing overall.

The reason why Hopp is arguably not Germany's best player is Clemens, and there's a very good chance that the argument could be decided in the second round of this event. It's been another very good year in the career progression of the big man from Saarland, going from a player that looks sporadically dangerous to one that's a geniune threat to go deep in any event he plays in. Now up to the level where he's being seeded in Players Championship events, Clemens has made another two finals, just going about his business beating players he's meant to beat, Jonny Clayton and Gerwyn Price being a bit too much in each of the finals, while in unranked events, he'd make one more final, this time in the German Darts Masters - defeating Barney, Cross and Suljovic to get there, he'd push Peter Wright close before losing 8-6. Clemens was much improved in European Tour qualification this season, his Achilles heel in 2018 being somewhat corrected, but his record once into the events was a little disappointing, only picking up the two wins over Steffen Siepmann and Mervyn King, losing out to White and Suljovic in the last 32, while first round defeats to Evans and Barney aren't awful, losing to Mark Dudbridge is probably avoidable. What of TV? UK Open - OK I guess, beat Benito van de Pas very comfortably (hopefully an omen for Ally Pally) but then losing a close one to Whitlock, he made it through the Grand Slam qualifier, won a tough group featuring both Gurney and Dolan before being edged in a deciding leg by Glen Durrant, then most recently he'd beat McGeeney and Woodhouse at Minehead before losing to Willie O'Connor. Things are trending up, and this isn't a bad draw for Gabriel.

Hey guys, remember when Benito van de Pas was knocking on the door of the Premier League? No, me neither. Last year's last 16 run at the worlds wasn't enough to keep him around in the seeds, and it's lucky that he's here at all, as it was only the PDPA qualifier that allowed him to get in. Strange that all the PDPA qualifiers are in the same quarter of the draw. So, what has Benito done this year? Not a lot. The European Tour column should give you a clue - only qualifying once is bad, and he only got to the final round of qualifying on one occasion on top of that. When he did get there, he lost in the opening round to Willie O'Connor. He's only managed to win his board twice on the Pro Tour, and only managed to reach the board final on two occasions on top of that - he did manage to get a win over Peter Wright in one of those, but the other wins are all over players that he either should beat, or not be that much of an underdog to. Notable that in one of those events, the player that put him out was Gabriel Clemens. 21 first round exits on the Pro Tour, including six in a row to end the season, tells you everything you need to know. He didn't even need a win to get to the last 64 of the UK Open, as he was still just in the top 32 at the time, then we all saw what his first round opponent here did. This looks like it's only going one way, then it's going to be one hell of a fight for van de Pas to save his card in 2020.

Worlds 3/16 - Wade, Edhouse, Koltsov, Beaton, Anderson, Zong

If 2018 was the season of Wade showing he still had the ability to win major titles, 2019 was the year of Wade dominating the floor - wrapping up four Players Championship titles before the Matchplay, including the rarity of a double over one weekend in April, before adding a fifth in September. It's only that he played somewhat of a truncated schedule following his fourth win (only playing four of the remaining twelve events) that prevented him from being the number one seed for the Players Championship finals, being edged out by Gerwyn Price. That early season form saw him play well enough to get through to the Premier League final day, as well as the Masters final, not a bad start to the year at all. It was enough to get me to back him each way for this event at half the price he is now... as such, it's a bit of a surprise that he's not been able to do more on TV in ranking events, with just the one quarter final in Blackpool, and maybe he could have done a bit more - the UK Open in particular, a last sixteen loss to Ross Smith was probably avoidable, in Dublin he probably should have taken out Mervyn King, can't do too much about hitting an unplayable Jonny Clayton in the European Championship, then in the remainder he lost a deciding leg to Adrian Lewis and then ran into MvG. It'll be tough for Wade to run really deep given the section of the draw he's in, but the game's definitely there.

Ritchie Edhouse being here can be put down to one weekend really - the opening Challenge Tour weekend, where he was able to claim a win over Scott Taylor, as well as reaching the last 32 or deeper in the other three events. Because of the way the PDC calendar worked out, that put him number one in the Challenge Tour rankings for enough entry deadlines for more or less the first half of the Pro Tour - it's a bit of a silly system to not have it as a year rolling scoring system, but it is what it is, and Edhouse took enough advantage of it to get to the worlds. Making the most of his floor form, Ritchie was able to win his board twice, first with a notable win over Ian White, secondly with wins over van den Bergh and Gurney, as well as pick up enough 500 quids here, grands there to finish nearly high enough in the Players Championship order of merit to make Minehead - missing out by one win on what would almost certainly have been a main stage game against a big seed. He'd need a bit more to get here, and did well enough to five European Tour events, ending with a 5-5 record, with a best run early where he beat Brendan Dolan and Adrian Lewis to make the last sixteen. It was unfortunate that the last of those events clashed with the final Challenge Tour weekend, giving Edhouse a decision to play for the card or play for the worlds, but he's here now.

Edhouse's opponent will be a familiar face to him in Boris Koltsov, who has similarly been very good on the Order of Merit, nearly doing enough to win a tour card but finishing a few hundred quid short of doing so. Koltsov qualified from winning the Eurasian event, an interesting one in that it was streamed with some fun technical issues, leaving them to score using a clipboard and marker pen for the home viewers, he wasn't really challenged that much though and is very much Russia's number one player. Boris's Challenge Tour win came over Dave Prins on the same day as Edhouse won his, and this allowed Koltsov to accumulate plenty of floor experience, not being quite so consistent as Ritchie, but with a better peak, beating Wattimena and Michael Smith along the way to the quarter finals in June. He's also played in some European Tour events, getting through a crowded regional qualifier three times, generally beating the players he should and losing to those he should, but a loss to Richard North from an almost won position will have hurt. Koltsov's at least been on this stage before, which could make a difference, but has yet to get more than the preliminary win he got on debut five years ago.

Steve Beaton will, this year, tie the record for most world championship appearances at 29, and he's not showing any signs of slowing down any time soon. It's been a relatively quiet year, but there's been some peaks, primarily in the UK Open, where a potentially hard opening draw against Gary Anderson was no problem, a 10-8 win being replicated against Keegan Brown and Dimitri van den Bergh before being blitzed by Michael Smith. Beaton wasn't able to get a televised win outside of that run, mostly tough draws, but was close to edging out Ricky Evans at Minehead, but it's on the floor where he's done the best work. Nothing spectacular, three quarter finals being his peak in the Players Championship series, but he was close to being an ever present on the European Tour - he qualified for the first eight in a row, being very close to taking one to the final where he lost 7-5 to Ian White in the semis in Sindelfingen, a week after he lost to the same player in the quarters after defeating both Michael Smith and Rob Cross in Austria. Beaton would sneak into the seedings for a couple, and only miss out on one event. If this level of consistent performances continues, a thirtieth appearance in 2021 seems inevitable.

2019's been an incredibly frustrating year for Kyle Anderson, a bit similar to 2018 really. His level of play has been right up there - a season long points per turn score of over 92 is top-20 standard. He's just not been able to convert it into results often enough - a continual string of running into great players not making mistakes or narrow 6-4, 6-5 sorts of losses. It started out alright, with three quick quarter finals potentially making a good platform, but Kyle would only win his board on one further occasion in the season, leaving him drawn against Joe Cullen in the Players Championship finals, and Cullen did little wrong to win 6-2. Kyle would make six European Tour events, but just couldn't force his way past a seed, running into Gerwyn Price, Adrian Lewis, Daryl Gurney and Michael van Gerwen, the ten grand he did win not being quite enough to get him to Göttingen. As a result of that, and being just the wrong side of the Matchplay and Grand Prix cutoffs, his only other TV appearance of the year (outside of the Australasian World Series tour) was in the UK Open, where he'll want to forget a drubbing handed out by Josh Payne. Kyle seems like a confidence player, if he can get a first round win here, then the second round seems winnable as well.

Kyle's opponent will be the young Chinese qualifier Zong, who won his regional qualifier to make a return here after a year's absence. Last time out he didn't look too bad, averaging in the mid 80's but losing in straight sets to Bernie Smith, and it's that sort of average he apparently put up in the qualifying tournament. We know a little bit more about Zong than we did last time - he's appeared in the World Cup again this year, but the Chinese team could only manage the one leg against the United States, and he also appeared in the World Youth Championship. There he was unfortunate to get drawn in a group with eventual winner Luke Humphries, but did get a win over Keelan Kay, where he seemed a bit inconsistent, he did get four of his five legs won in six visits, but then also had a leg he lost where he had seven visits without hitting a big treble. Zong did play the Development Tour weekend while he was there, only being stopped by Wessel Nijman, Berry van Peer and Justin van Tergouw, but had a good win over Dawson Murschell and another win where he went 15-15-15-14 darts to sweep Stephen Rosney with a ton plus average. We'll see which player turns up, there's a wide range of outcomes in this one.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Worlds 2/16 - Clayton, Joyce, Dekker, Bunting, Monk, Perales

Some people have been of the opinion that Jonny Clayton's not had a particularly good year. I can't say that I'd agree to be honest - what he's done is more or less what you'd expect of someone on the fringes of the top 16 - he's managed to win a Pro Tour event, which is always hard to do, taking down Gabriel Clemens in the final after defeating Ian White in the semi, and put himself in position to possibly add another, with seven further trips to the quarter finals or further. He did enough on the European Tour to qualify comfortably for the European Championship, where he was able to whitewash James Wade with a 111 average, and who knows what he'd have done in Denmark if he'd have won a decider against Dave Chisnall in his best European Tour run. His averaging is in and around the top 20 of the whole of my database. I guess the relative lack of TV runs, outside of his World Series quarter final, which is probably fair enough - Ratajski was a tough out in the UK Open, but Keegan Brown, Stephen Bunting and Ryan Meikle were all costly first round defeats. He should have enough to make the last 32 here and try to avenge his loss to Bunting.

It's not been a bad season for Ryan Joyce following his impressive quarter final run from last year, but he's not really hit the level of floor consistency that he had in 2018, which has seen him fail to really power on to the world's top 32. However, he's picked up a bit later in the season, with his four European Tour qualifications coming at the halfway point of that series or later, and his best Pro Tour run appearing right towards the end of the year, where he was able to reach the semi finals and only lost out in a deciding leg to Gerwyn Price. Joyce wasn't able to win his board on the Pro Tour as often as he would have liked, but it was enough to see him qualify for Minehead, where he really should have defeated John Henderson, missing match darts in an opening round defeat. Joyce's only other major appearance was in the UK Open, where he'd take out Robert Owen, but suffer a heavy defeat at the hands of Cristo Reyes. Hopefully Ryan's good experiences last year will set him up well to get through the opening round.

In an ironic twist, Joyce's first round opponent will be Jan Dekker, the two players who faced the ladies' qualifiers last season running into each other in the opening round this year. Unlike Joyce, Jan has had a horrible 2019, not getting close at all to qualifying outright through the Pro Tour, relying on the West Europe qualifier to get a return, where he eliminated youngster Geert Nentjes, former tour card holder Jeffrey de Graaf and previous Lakeside competitor Derk Telnekes to claim his spot. Why did he need to go through this route? Getting absolutely nothing from the European Tour is a huge reason, only getting as far as the final round of qualifying three times (obviously winning none), which would leave him far too much work to do on the Pro Tour - and only winning more than one game on four occasions isn't going to cut the mustard. He was able to get through his board on three of those four occasions, beating the likes of Michael Smith, Chris Dobey, Mensur Suljovic and Jamie Hughes - Dekker still has the big game in him, but with increasing infrequency. That he got a winnable game to get to the later stages of the UK Open but lost 10-3 to Simon Whitlock is sadly more indicative of Jan's season.

Stephen Bunting's 2019 has been somewhat inconsistent, but he has been able to hit some of the heights that saw him win the Lakeside title, and if he can continue with that sort of peak, who knows what might happen at Ally Pally? Fortunately for Bunting, his best performances came in the last event of the year, where at the Players Championship finals, he was able to follow up on a win over Dimitri van den Bergh with incredibly destructive performances against Jose de Sousa and Ryan Meikle, before Gerwyn Price would be too tough an ask at the quarter final stage. Price would avenge a loss from Bunting's other great run this year at Blackpool - there Bunting beat Price in a deciding leg in the opening round, would also take out Ian White in additional legs, before running eventual champion Rob Cross very close, only losing by the odd two legs in thirty. Stephen would get wins over Keegan Brown and Jonny Clayton to avoid any early major exits, keeping the ranking money rolling in, although an early loss to Steve Lennon in the UK Open would be a disappointment. Away from the big screen, Bunting's Pro Tour campaign would be fairly weak barring one mid-season final loss to Jeffrey de Zwaan, and he would make another final in Prague, losing out to Jamie Hughes in tricky conditions. Some good heights, but some barren spells - at least he's timing the former well.

Six years after his last appearance in a world championship, Arron Monk makes his return on the back of a solid floor season as he attempts to retain his tour card. Monk's qualification is more or less solely based from his Pro Tour results, which faded a little bit towards the end of the season barring his quarter final run in the final event of the season to lock in a bit of confidence, but looked very good in the first half. The peak was in April and early May, where he got one of his two European Tour berths and his only win (over a domestic qualifier before losing to Dave Chisnall), his best floor run of a semi final with key wins over Clemens and Ratajski, and his other quarter final run, taking out de Sousa and John Henderson before losing a decider to Ian White. He's previously looked confident enough on TV to have got out of the groups in the Grand Slam, but that was eight years ago - more recently he's suffered early losses to van der Voort and Clayton at Minehead. Arron's going to need to roll back the years and rediscover his earlier form if he's going to go deep enough to save his card.

Monk's international opponent is another tour card holder in Jose Perales, or Justicia, depending on what naming custom you want. Jose's a debutant here having won the qualifier that's aimed at the Iberian peninsula, most recently won by Jose de Sousa. Perales won that comfortably, not facing anyone of real note until the final where he averaged over a ton in preventing Antonio Alcinas from qualifying, putting his compatriot's card in jeopardy. Having perhaps surprisingly won a tour card two years ago, it's all but lost, and he's mostly notable for an incident with Adrian Lewis on the floor rather than for any real impressive performances - this year he did scrape into the money in the UK Open over a pub qualifier but then was pipped by Ricky Evans, but his record elsewhere wasn't anywhere near enough to get to any more events. Jose only managed one European Tour appearance in Denmark, but lost out to Ryan Joyce in the opening round, and only won his board three times - a best of a quarter final in April, beating James Wade and then whitewashing Rowby John Rodriguez, and could have gone deeper had he not lost a deciding leg to Tytus Kanik. He's going to need to find his best game to truly trouble Monk, but in the penultimate Pro Tour weekend he did at least have two of his better runs, so coupled with his great run in a big event to get here, maybe it's more likely than usual that it happens.