The second biggest darts tournament on the calendar begins at the end of the week when 32 of the leading players in the sport descend on the Winter Gardens in Blackpool for the summer bash that is the World Matchplay.
Michael van Gerwen goes in search of a hat trick of titles in this tournament having won the event for the previous two years. He defeated Phil Taylor in last year’s final and this will be the final Matchplay for the latter.
2016 – Michael van Gerwen
2015 – Michael van Gerwen
2014 – Phil Taylor
2013 – Phil Taylor
2012 – Phil Taylor
2011 – Phil Taylor
2010 – Phil Taylor
2009 – Phil Taylor
2008 – Phil Taylor
2007 – James Wade
We are in leg play all week for this tournament. The 32 men have been placed into a draw which is a knockout from the very start. The first round is the best of 19 legs which rises to the best of 21 in the second round. Quarter finals are played over the best of 31 legs with the semi-finals best of 33 and the final over the best of 35 legs.
Each match has to be won by two clear legs however there is a tiebreak in this tournament. A player has four more legs past the scheduled distance to win by two clear legs and if that hasn’t happened the fifth extra leg is sudden death. The sudden death would occur at 12-12 in the first round, 13-13 in the second round, 18-18 in the QF, 19-19 in the SF and 20-20 in the final.
The world number one and defending champion Michael van Gerwen is in this section of the draw but this quarter is a tournament in itself with the way the seeds have worked out. I saw that because the other seeds in this part are Phil Taylor, Raymond Barneveld and Simon Whitlock.
If that wasn’t a good enough quartet the four qualifiers that make up the section are of the highest quality too. Kyle Anderson, Joe Cullen, Gerwyn Price and Stephen Bunting are the men in question so this quarter is going to be fantastic to watch.
As ever this is the most open looking quarter of the four. Adrian Lewis is the top seed in it with his World Cup partner Dave Chisnall also here. Kim Huybrechts brings a continental flavour to the section with Ian White being the other seed.
Mervyn King is probably the leading qualifier in this section while Alan Norris can more than shake a few up on his day. Rob Cross is still improving and is worthy of being here while Steve Beaton has a floor title to his name this year too.
Gary Anderson has never been beyond the semi-final of this tournament but he is the leading seed in this quarter. He is joined on the seed front by Mensur Suljovic, a man who has taken him out here in the past, and the Dutch duo of Benito van de Pas and Jelle Klaasen.
One of the qualifiers in this section is a real form horse in Daryl Gurney who made the final of the US Masters recently. Justin Pipe, John Henderson and the former Lakeside champion Christian Kist make up another competitive quarter.
This is where Peter Wright will attempt to win his first World Matchplay from. Thus far the colourful Scot is yet to go beyond the semi-final in this tournament but is seeded to go at least that far here. James Wade loves Blackpool and he’ll be a danger from this quarter as will Michael Smith. Robert Thornton is the other seed.
Darren Webster is a qualifier in this part of the draw and he should be buzzing heading to Blackpool after his first tour win in ages two weekends ago. James Wilson, Steve West and the talented Spaniard Cristo Reyes make up the quarter.
With the top two quarters of the draw looking as tough as they are I’m heading to the bottom half for an outright bet in this tournament although I might return to the top half when I preview the quarters later in the week.
The man I like in the bottom half is Michael Smith. He has been on fire in the European Tour events recently which I see as the best recent form guide given they are played on stage and most of the big names turn up.
His last four ET events reads winner, SF, final, SF with Michael van Gerwen the man to beat him in two of those tournaments. He wouldn’t face MVG until the final here. Smith has been averaging a ton in most of those matches and with the longer formats here allowing him to relax a bit I expect even more from him in this event.
Wade and Wright will be tough opponents but you don’t turn up to this event and expect an easy draw. That said Wade has done little of note in 2017 and were it not for his love of this venue you would easily pass him over and Wright is messing with his darts again. It could be tougher for Smith and at 50/1 I’ll pay to see how far he can go.
Back M.Smith to win World Matchplay (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 51.00 with Skybet (1/2 1-2)