One invitational event started in the darts world on Thursday evening and another gets underway on Friday night when the top 24 players in the world rankings head to Milton Keynes for The Masters, a tournament which is gaining in appeal every time it is played.
Chris Dobey certainly enjoyed it last year when he won his maiden TV title which got him into the Premier League. The winner of this won’t get into the Premier League this time around but with Luke Littler not here they will get plenty of the limelight.
2023 – Chris Dobey
2022 – Joe Cullen
2021 – Jonny Clayton
2020 – Peter Wright
2019 – Michael van Gerwen
2018 – Michael van Gerwen
2017 – Michael van Gerwen
2016 – Michael van Gerwen
2015 – Michael van Gerwen
2014 – James Wade
We have the same extended event this weekend with 24 players taking to the oche rather than the 16 which was the case in the early years of this event. The first round sees the players ranked 9-24 meeting over the best of 11 legs on Friday evening with the winners progressing to face one of the top 8 in the last 16 on Saturday. The quarter finals, semi-finals and final all take place on Sunday with the last 16 and last eight being the best of 19 legs and the latter stages the best of 21 to find the winner on Sunday evening.
The draw is based on the world rankings this week so the number one ranked player is right at the top of the bracket and everyone fits in around them. That means that the world champion Luke Humphries is the player who sits at the top of the draw. He automatically makes it through to the second round, as everyone who is in the top eight of the rankings do. The other three players in this half of the draw to go through to Saturday’s action without being involved on Friday night are the World Matchplay champion Nathan Aspinall, Peter Wright and Daryl Gurney who took Gerwyn Price’s place in the draw at the last minute.
That leaves eight players in the top half who have to go through the first round of the competition. Jonny Clayton is the highest ranked of those at nine in the world while the defending champion Chris Dobey is in the field in this half too. Joe Cullen is a former winner in this half with the section made up of Stephen Bunting, who was in great form leading into the World Championship, Ross Smith, Krzysztof Ratajski, Dirk van Duijvenbode and Ryan Searle.
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That leaves us with the players ranked two, three, six and seven to head straight into the second round of the tournament from the bottom half of the draw. Number two is the multiple time former winner of this in Michael van Gerwen while the third ranked player in the rankings is Michael Smith, who is yet to get his hands on this tournament. Danny Noppert has made his way up to number seven and gets a first round bye as a result.
As with the top half there are eight players in the bottom half of the draw who will compete in the first round of the tournament. Two of the ITV event winners from last year are here in the defending champion Chris Dobey and the UK Open winner Andrew Gilding. Dave Chisnall was last seen in the World Championship quarter final while Dimitri Van den Bergh, James Wade and Damon Heta will be looking for strong runs. The German pair of Martin Schindler and Gabriel Clemens complete the bracket.
I’ll go with a couple of outright bets this weekend with the main one coming in the form of the World Matchplay champion Nathan Aspinall. Aspinall probably hasn’t gone as well as he would have liked in the game since he won that title and bowed out in the first game in the Premier League on Thursday night but one of the reasons why I like him is the only other person in his quarter who has played a competitive match since the World Championship after the withdrawal of Gerwyn Price is Dirk van Duijvenbode and he is injured. While everyone else will play on Friday, Aspinall has played in Bahrain, the Netherlands and the Premier League so he is at least up to speed and while those events didn’t go to plan, he lost to Luke Littler, who will be a top five player after his two years on tour give him a proper ranking, Danny Noppert and Gerwyn Price, all top seven players in the world. With the draw having opened up and with the potential to open up further should something happen to Luke Humphries, I think the 20/1 on ‘The Asp’ might be too big.
Speaking of big prices, while Dimitri Van den Bergh had a 2023 to forget, he has way too much talent to be an 80/1 shot in a reduced field like this and while his draw got tougher with the form of Michael Smith on Thursday night and he is very much in the tougher half of the bracket, the price is just massive for a player who only needs a couple of wins to get his confidence back again. It might be that they don’t come here but we are talking about a guy who has made seven TV finals and four other major semi-finals in just over eight years towards the top end of the game. Van den Bergh has had a hit out since the World Championship when he lost in the first round of the Dutch Darts Masters where he averaged 102.43 in defeat to Gerwyn Price. That average has him competitive against anyone and if he can get into the longer formats and produce that he could give us a real run at 80/1.
Back N.Aspinall to win The Masters (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 21.00 with Betfred (1/2 1-2)
Back D.Van den Bergh to win The Masters (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 81.00 with Boylesports (1/2 1-2)
Back him here: