Author Archives: Charis Mutschler

Column #CM 68 “Let Us Entertain You”

Thursday, August 1, 2019
Column CM67
“Let Us Entertain You”

Jesters and clowns – or as one would put it today, comedians and entertainers – have always been important during Blackpool’s summer season. Everybody who is or was anybody performed over the years in the Winter Gardens, the Grand Theatre or other establishments in Blackpool. For all those comedians and entertainers a comedy carpet memorial was erected in the autumn 2011. Here, just across the Blackpool Tower, you’ll find quotations from more than a thousand writers, comedians and entertainers. For five years artist Gordon Young worked with his team to complete it.

The cross shaped carpet makes a connection between the tower and the beach. To build it required lots of time and work because all the texts were set in type from single letters made from granite which were cemented. In this way 320 slabs were produced and put together. The artists used red and black granite from India.

The letters vary in size – some of the quotes can even be read when standing high up on top of the Tower. The slabs were angled in different directions – so from any direction some of the quotations can be read. And visitors will always will discover something new – despite walking over the carpet several times during the years not until this visit did I discover a dart quotation (see the photo above!).

On my last night at the World Matchplay the entertainment started with the match between Daryl Gurney and Keegan Brown. I’ve no idea what both players did in between their matches – but neither started well. It was an under par match at least until the first break. Plus, the players had a lot of trouble hitting their doubles. Gurney went with a 4-1 lead into the first break.

Everybody hoped the match would improve and it did but only a little bit and the averages before the second break were around the 90 mark (Keegan Brown reached a peak of about 94). Both players were finally better on the doubles as well. Gurney was still in the lead at the second break though his lead had been reduced to only two legs.

After the second break we finally had a match. Brown only just missed to level several times. Gurney played a strange match – some legs were really strong but those were always followed by really weak ones and he was far from happy himself. Gurney managed to win before the match would require the tie break. His average was 93.44 and his hitting rate on the doubles 30 percent…

Stephen Bunting and Ian White came on stage next and started slightly better than the match before. It was a quite evenly matched game but Bunting was far more clinical on the doubles. Then Bunting‘s average dropped and White dominated and took the lead before the second break – and Bunting seemed unable to find he way back to his great performance in his first match.

To me it appeared White would swing himself over the finishing line first but suddenly Bunting decided not to give in and reeled of leg after leg from 4-9 down to 8-9. At first he couldn‘t manage to draw and White only needed another leg. But finally Bunting levelled. The match went into the tie break and White couldn’t hit either scores nor doubles any longer. To the delight of the crowd Bunting won the match.

The average didn’t get much higher in the match between Rob Cross and Krzysztof Ratajski which followed. Ratajski won the first two legs but instead of gearing up he geared down and Cross was took on the role of all-round entertainer and went into the second break with an 8-2 lead. After the break, Ratajski won a few more legs – it might be Cross already had switched off but he never was in danger of losing the match. With 11-5 he progressed into the next round.

The last match of the night as well developed into a one-sided affair. Peter Wright was too strong and Simon Whitlock had no chance at all. He even seemed to have lost all fighting spirit – up to the second break he only won a single leg. In fact, it was quite similar to the quarterfinal both had played last year. So, Wright took the reins and even performed a little bit of magic with a 170-finish and 7 perfect darts to entertain the crowd. It’s a pity he didn’t manage to throw a 9-darter…

The second night with second round matches was far less thrilling then the first. The only convincing players were Peter Wright and Rob Cross – and Stephen Bunting had impressed with his fighting spirit. Many players produced weaker performances then in the first round.

On my way home I of course pondered who in the end would win the event…

Despite his convincing performances I was not sure Peter Wright would do it. I couldn’t shake the feeling when considering his attitude and demeanour that it could be Rob Cross‘ tournament in the end.


Column #CM66 At the Beach

Thursday, August 1, 2019
Column CM66
At the Beach

On the fourth day of the tournament the sun was shining from a blue sky and it was very warm…

As did a lot of tourists, I walked to the beach which is to be sure one of Blackpool’s main attractions from the beginning. Some say Blackpool’s beach is the second most beautiful beach of the world – seven miles of golden sand (most of it underwater at high tide). One finds the quietest stretches around the South Pier or north of the North Pier while across from the Blackpool Tower and around the Central Pier are the most people.

At the quiet parts of the beach in the South of Blackpool children and teenagers can still experience an amusement from Victorian times – donkey rides.

Traditionally you can find the name of the donkey on the headgear and traditional as well still today the most popular name is Daisy.

Probably donkey rides first were offered in 1885 in Bridlington and the donkeys at this time probably were work animals from the cockles industry. For some time, donkey rides in Blackpool were discredited as not all donkey owners treated the animals well. So now, to protect the welfare of the donkeys a license is required. Furthermore, only donkeys with a health certificate – which has to be renewed every year by a vet – are allowed to work.

Each day has to start with breakfast in the stable before the animals work at the beach. Riders cannot weigh more than 50 kg. The donkeys’ work cannot exceed 48 hours in a week and always on Fridays they have a day off…

In the first match of the second round Max Hopp played Michael Smith. From the start Hopp played well while Smith couldn’t find his doubles. So Hopp was 4-1 up before the first break. It had been with the same score that Smith went into his first break against Jamie Hughes and to be sure, as in the match against Hughes, Smith was “in” the match with Hopp and after the break began to recover.

Smith was scoring much better than Hopp but still wasn’t finding his range on the doubles – so Hopp got a lot of chances. Often enough he was able to use them and Smith never really was able to pull clear.

But Hopp couldn’t get a match winning advantage either and at 10-10 the match went into the tie break.

In the first leg of the tie break Hopp had a chance to win the leg but couldn’t hit tops and Smith won the leg. In the second leg Smith threw some high scores and hit the winning double.

Hopp again showed a good performance but in contrast to his first opponent  Dave Chisnall, Michael Smith just was the better player by the end of the match. Without his double trouble he would not have needed a tie break to win the match.

James Wade versus Mensur Suljovic was the next match. Wade usually is one of the players who has a problem with Suljovic slow pace but this match was very even from the beginning. Wade went into the firs break with a 3-2 lead.

At the second break it was five all. The averages were similar, the hitting rate on the doubles was very similar as well although Wade was a little bit better.

Suddenly, Suljovic managed to win three legs in a row and he was 8-5 in the lead. But Wade started to catch up while Suljovic seemed to run out of steam and it was 8-8.

This match went into the tie break as well but unlike Wade’s first match this time no sudden death leg was needed to decide the match – Wade won 13-11. He had been more clinical on his doubles – simple as that.

Gary Anderson started his match against Mervyn King as if he was afraid to miss his train. He scored really well but the rush was not good for his doubles and Mervyn King was 4-1 up before the first break. And he was 6-4 up before the second break as well.

Anderson improved and to the delight of the crowd drew 6-6. Then he even managed to get in front – but not for long.

King didn’t intend to give in and found another gear. He overtook the reigning champion and won in the end 11-8. During the last three Legs Anderson was no longer in the match and he left the stage at express-train speed. As is had been warm outside it now was very warm inside as well and probably on stage it was unbearably hot. It looked to me as if King had far less problems with that than Anderson.

The last match of the night saw three-times world champion against three-times world champion…

Glen Durrant looked the more tense at the start of his first match and he started a little bit wobbly as well. It might have been the hype over the match was one of the reasons for it.

Michael van Gerwen was more clinical on his doubles while Durrant scored better and was 3-2 in front before the first break. It was a deserved lead as van Gerwen’s average was just over 90.

van Gerwen improved but Durrant was still in the lead before the second break. But van Gerwen improved more and more and the match got closer and closer.

Both players felt the pressure and to be sure the heat on stage as well.

Briefly, it looked to me as though Durrant was about to give in but he recovered and the merciless head-to-head race went into the tie break.

It was rather astonishing that it was the far far less experienced (in such situations) Durrant who kept his nerve while van Gerwen was running on empty.

Durrant won the two legs he needed for the win and progressed at his debut with strong performances, strength of nerve – full of emotion and cheered by the crowd – into the quarterfinals. And Michael van Gerwen…

…for the second time in a row in this tournament would travel home early. The World Matchplay doesn’t seem to be his tournament.

What a night of darts!

Besides being tired I felt rather pumped on my way home as well. It was still hot outside and from afar one could hear rolling thunder.

Column #CM65 Along the Piers

Tuesday, July 30, 2019
Column CM65
Along the Piers

Compared to Sunday, Monday was a rather relaxed day and I did what many people do in Blackpool – I walked along the promenade looking at the beach and the piers.

The English word “pier” doesn’t mean the same as the German word – which is usually a shipping pier. The British piers today are something like amusement centres build on posts into the sea. Blackpool is the only seaside resort with three piers which were all built between 1860 and 1893.

The very first of these pleasure piers was built 1813 in Rye on the Isle of Wight. The idea behind the piers was that the towns wanted to give the growing number of tourists – who thanks to the railway visited the seaside – the opportunity to have a look at the sea even at low tide. So the tourists could stroll along and above the sea even when they couldn’t see it from the beach. But to only to stroll got a little bit boring after some time and so later restaurants, theaters and other amusements found the way onto the piers.

At the beginning, piers were built from wood and later from iron and wood. 55 piers exist still today in England and Wales.

The piers are always very vulnerable to storms and fire. In Brighton in England the West Pier – which was built like Blackpool’s North Pier by Eugenius Birch – was destroyed in 2002 after flooding by storm and in 2003 was demolished completely by two fires. Only the blackened iron skeleton still looms above the water.

In 2014, on another pier by Birch in Eastbourne a fire started. Luckily only the main amusement hall and some smaller stalls were destroyed. The pier has been rebuilt.

The piers in Blackpool all had to be renovated over the years because of damage caused by storms and fire. The maintenance of the piers is very high, but normally there is no entrance fee if you want to walk along the pier. From England the piers spread all over the world.

The last first round evening started with the match between Jonny Clayton and Keegan Brown. Fans haven’t seen great performances from Jonny Clayton recently but in this match the players were in the first part on equal terms. Keegan Brown’s average was a little bit higher but not high enough to show in the match. So, Clayton went into the first break with a 3-2 lead. Both players had at this time a 100 percent hitting rate on the doubles.

The hitting rate dropped after the first brake and the averages levelled. The second part still was head-to-head and on a high level and it was 5-5 before the second break.

After the break it was first Clayton who got some space, but Brown didn’t give in and drew to 7-7 with a 127 checkout for his third high finish of the match. The match moved to 8-8 and one could already feel there would be another tie break. But Brown won another leg, Clayton failed to level at 9 and Brown managed to win 10-8.

On similar equal terms was the following match between Simon Whitlock and John Henderson – in tartan trousers. At first Whitlock had a small advantage which got clearer and clearer, but Henderson showed fighting spirit and put the Australian under pressure. When Whitlock was up 5-3 Henderson suddenly improved and played an over 100 average. It was 5:5 when the players went into the second break.

Whitlock looked very determined after the break and took the lead again, but the match was not won yet. When it was 9-6 for Whitlock he just couldn’t find the trebles any more, and Henderson claimed the following two legs. Then he ran out of steam as well and a rather banged up Whitlock managed to cross the finishing line first.

The last of the debutantes – Ricky Evans – didn’t have many chances against a solid playing Daryl Gurney but he was very clinical on his doubles. Nevertheless, Gurney was just the better player in this match. But similar to Whitlock he had problems to cross the finishing line. When he was 9-6 in the lead, he didn’t score well any longer and Evans used the opportunity to get closer and closer. But Gurney pulled himself together and threw two 180s in the last leg of the match. His double trouble caught up with him again, but Evans was too far behind to do anything and in the end Gurney hit the winning double.

For the last match of the first round Vincent van der Voort and Peter Wright walked on stage. After the last performances from Wright and his wins on the Pro Tour and the German Darts Masters one could expect Wright would dominate the match – but it was the Dutchman who played stronger at the beginning.

Both players showed high-class darts with averages of over 100. The crowd was torn and sang for the players alternately. After the first break Wright had arrived in the match and started to pull away. Van der Voort resisted and came back to 5-6 but after that couldn’t keep up any longer. Wright on the other side progressed without big problems and with the best average of the first round.

All in all only three of the debutantes survived their first round matches and six seeded players were eliminated in the first round. Three of the matches were decided in the tie break, two of those in a sudden death leg. Only six players played an over 100 average and two of those were match losers.

On this evening none of the matches went into overtime and the night was over quite early. It was warm and dry outside which made the way home a lot more agreeable.

Column #CM64 Darting entertainment

Tuesday, July 30, 2019
Column CM64
Darting entertainment

On the second day of the World Matchplay I had no time to have another look at the entertainment facilities of a typical British seaside resort. On a day with two darts sessions my only contact with fresh air would be on the way to and the way back from the Winter Gardens.

But it didn’t look like I would miss a lot outside. The weather forecast had announced a new heat wave and it was a little bit warmer. But actually, it looked like more rain.

For the first match of the afternoon Darren Webster and the next debutante, Pole Krzysztof Ratajski, came on stage. From the start in this match the debutante was the stronger player, though he played the slightly lower average.

Webster wasn’t on his “A” game and Ratajski is indeed, while a World Matchplay debutante, a very experienced player who never looks nervous.

Nearer the end of the match Webster’s average sunk under 90 while Ratajski got more clinical on the doubles. Webster lost with 5-10 and Ratajski was the first debutante this year to survived the first round. All in all, it this was the weakest match of the tournament so far.

Next on were German Max Hopp and Dave Chisnall. Chisnall from the start looked like he would have preferred to be somewhere else. And he first played like that as well. He was lucky that he was only one leg behind before the first break and Max Hopp was right to slap himself on the shoulder for his performance.

But after the break Chisnall managed to draw and even got into the lead for the first time after he hit six perfect darts. Hopp immediately answered but Chisnall finally was in the match and shined with a lot of high scores. The crowd was behind Chisnall and it got more difficult for Hopp who in the second part of the match won only one leg.

Chisnall was the first on a winning double but he couldn’t hit it and Hopp got back into the match. The match went into the tie break and it looked as though Chisnall just couldn’t overcome his disappointment. Hopp won the match deservedly 11-9 though his average in the end had dropped and was below the average of his opponent. It was a strong performance of Hopp who kept his nerve.

The next match between Ian White and Joe Cullen was so one sided one just can’t say much about it. Cullen had infrequent chances to even throw at the doubles. And he didn’t use a single one. It might be he was just too nervous and got more and more discouraged throughout the match. I think it probably was not easy for White to keep up his performance and stay focused, but he managed it.

In the last match of the afternoon session the next debutante came on stage – Jamie Hughes who just had won his first European Tour Event. Hughes started strong and Michael Smith once again couldn’t find his doubles. At the first break Jamie Hughes was 4-1 up. It was clear it would be difficult for Hughes to keep up this high standard should Michael Smith get into the match.

And Smith did get stronger. The match suddenly was a head-to-head affair and finally Smith got clinical on his doubles. He won four legs in a row and the lead and started to enlarge it further. In the end Smith could celebrate a 10-7 win and another debutante was out of the tournament, but nevertheless Hughes could be happy with his performance. He really played very well!

The first match of the evening session was a real thriller and rather nerve-racking both for the fans of James Wade and the fans of Jeffrey de Zwaan. I couldn’t almost watch it was so nerve-racking near the end.

It had started quite benignly…

Jeffrey de Zwaan dominated and James Wade sort of dithered. When and why that changed I can’t really say. But de Zwaan just couldn’t get rid of Wade and, as was bound to happen, Wade got closer and closer and – at a time when I had already decided de Zwaan would win – managed to draw.

Now it was Wade who couldn’t get rid of de Zwaan, especially as Wade made too many mistakes AND missed a few match darts. The match went into a sudden death leg in which the Dutchman even threw a 180. But it didn’t help him as James Wade won the match.

To cool down, the next match between Mensur Suljovic and Jermaine Wattimena was boring and very one-sided. Suljovic defeated Wattimena – who played the worst average of the tournament to this point – 10-1.

After that we saw the much anticipated first appearance of the favourite Michael van Gerwen. He played against Steve Beaton and all in all it was one of the weaker first round matches. van Gerwen never really got cracking – he averaged around 93, and had obvious problems finding the doubles. I don’t think it was just because he was not challenged by Beaton. But of,course, I might be wrong – but the number one in the world showed some improvement was needed should he want to live up to the expectations.

The final match of the night was another highly anticipated match – the match between Adrian Lewis and Glen Durrant. But unfortunately, it was a rather one-sided match in which Durrant showed his best darts while Adrian Lewis didn’t show much at all. It had looked recently as though Lewis was on the way up again, but this match didn’t show it. Should Durrant be able to keep up his performance he could get far in the tournament.

That was the end to a rather mixed and very long day of darts. Two of the debutantes won their matches and the third, Jamie Hughes, had at least impressed. Three seeded players were eliminated. We saw some rather one-sided matches and two very close ones.

The question of which form Michael van Gerwen is in and whether he’ll be able to win the event was not answered. Should van Gerwen and Durant play on Tuesday as they did today is will be Durant, not van Gerwen, who will progress into the next round.

When I left the Winter Gardens it rained cats and dogs again and despite my umbrella, I was soaked by the time I made it back to my room.

Column #CM63 Not beach weather…

Monday, July 29, 2019
Column CM63
Not beach weather…

The first day of the World Matchplay started mostly wet – the day before it had rained cats and dogs.

When I looked out of the window during breakfast, I saw mainly stretched umbrellas. So I was appropriately equipped when I ventured to go outside. But I was lucky – the rain had stopped for the day.

The reason for the umbrellas was probably the very strong wind which churned up the Irish Sea. On the promenade not surprisingly, there were only a few pedestrians or cyclists. The waves often pounded over the balustrade of the promenade and some of the few cyclists got an involuntary cold shower.

In town quite a lot of people could be found. Besides the usual families on holiday there was an astonishing number of groups of young men. Might be darts fans?

All in all Blackpool today is far less a magnet for tourism than it has been. Blackpool is the epitome of a British seaside resort and was one of the first in England.

The notion of the seaside resort – to pass a holiday at sea – is an English one. Initially the health aspect had been in the forefront of thinking. The seawater and the fresh air was believed to help the health similar to the popular spas, for example in Bath.

Over time it developed into the fancied and traditional family holiday at sea. The idea of an entertainment program was already present in Bath and just naturally became included in the family seacoast holiday.

That the PDC decided to offer the World Matchplay as part of the entertainment program in such a traditional seaside resort as Blackpool was only consequential. And this year the very first evening of the event provided entertainment on a high level.

The World Matchplay didn’t start with a strong performance by Nathan Aspinall as I (and probably a lot of other darts fans) expected. Aspinall played well but always trailed while Mervyn King was the player in the front seat. He hit almost everything – the 180s, his doubles. Aspinall looked quite annoyed with himself and couldn’t leave the stage fast enough for the first break.

After the break it changed, and it was King who trailed and Aspinall who was always one step ahead and he scored much better. It might be he had settled into his rhythm or King was just not as strong any longer. Aspinall managed to level at 5 and disappeared into the second break.

After the second break the match reverted back to the way it was before the first break. King was back and again got the lead. He was clinical on his doubles and Aspinall couldn’t grab the few chances he had. In the end Mervyn King won 10-5 as Aspinall was unable to win a single leg after the second break.

With the walk-on of Gerwyn Price the booing started. It calmed some during the match itself but the cheerful crowd favoured Stephen Bunting throughout. The match was not as high-class as the first match of the night. It might be that was the reason it was not really gripping at first. Or it might be the reason was Stephen Bunting’s double-trouble. Until the second break he hit just four of his possible 19 doubles.

After the second break the match changed. Bunting was more clinical on his doubles which delighted the crowd and Price was booed more in the hope this might help Bunting. Price didn’t look affected, though he shook his head.

Suddenly the score line was 8-8 and now we had a thrilling and on both sides rather emotional match. Price reacted with a 180 but he was no longer able to dominate and the match went into the tie break.

Bunting for the first time got the lead and had the first chance to win the match. But he had six points left and missed three match darts on the double three. Price was back in and a sudden death leg was necessary. It looked now that Price had run out of steam while Bunting still was very determined. And so to the delight of the crowd in the end the winner was Stephen Bunting.

Then the venue got blue and even louder – reigning champion Gary Anderson came on stage.

Until the first break neither of the players showed a good performance. It was rather scratchy from both and especially so from Danny Noppert. Anderson went into the first break with a 4-1 advantage.

After the first break it got a little bit better though Anderson still was far from outstanding. Noppert managed to win two more legs but his situation was not much better after that. Anderson threw a 111 finish – one of the few highlights of the match – and went with a 7-3 lead into the second break.

After the break Anderson had left his focus and his joy of playing behind the stage and Noppert managed, despite the cheers of the crowd for his opponent, to get closer. It became tighter for the reigning champion! But the Scotsman battled and even managed to conjure a brilliant 160 finish out of the hat – and Noppert looked like he had finally given in. So, Anderson won 10-6. I am sure he knew he would have to improve.

To end the first World Matchplay day Rob Cross played against Chris Dobey. Dobey seemed to be very nervous and very impressed by his surroundings while it looked his opponent enjoyed himself from the start. It was quite astonishing how serene Cross seemed to be compared to Dobey who is exactly the same age. Cross dominated and we watched a very one-sided match, the first one, as Dobey just couldn’t keep up. In the end Cross won, almost nonchalantly, 10-3.

So, none of the debutants of the first day survived the first round and with Gerwyn Price and Nathan Aspinall the first seeded players had been eliminated as well.

On my way home I stumbled upon Rob Cross who waited for his taxi. I passed two still crowded fish and chips take-aways. The seagulls were still around as well – they don’t ever seem to sleep.

And the Blackpool Tower twinkled colourful in a now dry sky.

Column #CM62 World Matchplay 2019 – Debutantes Part 2

Monday, July 22, 2019
Column CM62
World Matchplay 2019 – Debutantes Part 2

Glen Durrant

Age: 48
Nickname: Duzza
Best TV run: 2017 Grand Slam of Darts – quarter-final, three times BDO World Champion
Betfred tournament odds: 40/1
First round opponent: Adrian Lewis

To call Durrant a debutante – well, I feel rather reluctant about it. But as he only switched at the start of the year to the PDC more or less all PDC tournaments are debuts.

Durrant started to play darts in 1985 and 2004 took for the first time part in the Winmau World Masters. Similar to many other tournaments he took part in, in those years he was not particularly successful.

It changed in 2015…

In 2015, he for the first time reached the semi-finals of the BDO World Championship, won the World Masters and the Zuiderduin Masters and moved up to the first place position in the BDO rankings. In 2016, he lost in the quarterfinals of the BDO World Championship. He accepted the invitation to the Grand Slam and played his way into the quarterfinals. As he feels rather positive about the PDC rumors swirled that he might make the switch. But Durrant stayed with the BDO, defended his World Masters title and the Zuiderduin Masters title.

He won the BDO World Championship 2017 and stood as the dominant player in the BDO. Again he is invited to the Grand Slam and again there were rumors he would switch but for Durrant it was more important to defend his World Champion title. He succeeded but again stayed in the BDO. In 2019, he for the third time won the BDO World Champion title and this time he really did make the switch. He took part in Qualifying School, won a tour Card and has already won two Players Championships on the Pro Tour this year.

Almost at the same time as Durrant switched to the PDC he switched his sponsor as well and is now with Target. All in all the now full-time pro player seems to be very happy inside the PDC.

Durrant is a very consistent player who you never can write off and of course he would love to impress in a big major stage event. His first round opponent Adrian Lewis is a very inconsistent player though it looks his form is getting better again. Should the “real” Adrian Lewis” appear in the first round match it could get difficult for Durrant. Otherwise I would say “advantage Durrant.” In the second round probably Michael van Gerwen will await him.

Jamie Hughes

Age: 33
Nickname: Yozza
Best TV run: 2016 Grand Slam of Darts – last 16
Betfred tournament odds: 66/1
First round opponent: Michael Smith

Like Glen Durrant, Jamie Hughes is an experienced BDO player. He started to play darts when he was ten and joined the BDO in 2007. In between he qualified for the UK Open 2012 but lost in the Preliminary Round. In 2014, Hughes reached the final of the Winmau World Masters and wons the Zuiderduin Masters. In 2015, he made his debut in the BDO World Championship and lost first round to Glen Durrant. But all in all 2015 was quite a good year for Yozza. He was nominated for the English Nation Team and won with the team the WDF World Cup.

In 2016, he played himself in the semi-finals of the BDO World Championship and won with the national team the WDF Europe Cup. He reached the semi-finals of the Winmau World Masters and was invited to the Grand Slam where he reached the last 16. There he lost to Chris Dobey. He again stands in the semifinals of the BDO World Championship 2017 and wons the Isle of Man Classic.

In the BDO World Championship 2018 he is defeated first round by Michael Unterbuchner and decides to switch to the PDC. He doesn’t manage to get a Tour Card and plays the Challenge Tour where he wins one event. In 2019, Hughes again took part in Qualifying School – this time with success. In Q School he impressed with high averages and now plays in most tournaments. But he’s not yet able to keep his averages up throughout a complete tournament. The first time he managed this was in the European Tour event in the Czech Republic which he won. With this win he qualified “last minute” for the World Matchplay.

Hughes‘ first choice in sport was football and as a youth he was a talented defender. But then he got a set darts from his uncle and Hughes changed to darts.

Hughes has with Michael Smith a difficult first round opponent – but might be not, should Smith‘s battle with his doubles go on. Should Smith still need many attempts to hit his doubles as he recently has Hughes has a good chance to progress. And he his chances to survive round two where Max Hopp or Dave Chisnall would be his opponent don’t look bad either.

Chris Dobey

Age: 29
Nickname: Hollywood
Best TV run: 2016 Grand Slam of Darts -quarter-final, 2018 Players Championship Finals – quarter-final
Betfred tournament odds: 125/1
First round opponent: Rob Cross

I almost can’t believe Chris Dobey hasn’t played yet in the World Matchplay. The young player seems to be ever-present.

Dobey started his career in 2013 in the BDO. In 2014, he reached the last 32 of the Winmau World Masters and defeated on his way in the first round German Martin Schindler. In 2015, he took part in Qualifying School and got a Tour Card by the ranking. In the same year he for the first time finished among the last 16 in a Pro Tour event, took part in his first European Tour event and qualified for the World Series of Darts final. In 2016, he played several European Tour Events, stood in one Players Championship final, played the Grand Slam of Darts – where he reached the quarterfinals – and the Players Championships Final. He qualified for the PDC World Championship 2017 reaching the second round.

2017 was not as good for Dobey but at least he managed to qualify for the PDC World Championship 2018 where he was Phil Taylor’s last first round opponent. He stood among the last 16 of the UK open, in the final of two Players Championships and in the quarterfinals of the Players Championship Finals. In 2019 he again took part in the PDC World Championship and played himself among the last 16. He was invited as one of the Contenders to the Premier League and managed a draw against Mensur Suljovic. For the first time Dobey stood in the final of an European Tour event.

Gary Anderson was for several years Dobey’s mentor. Dobey always wanted to play on the World Matchplay stage.

Chris Dobey to be sure will not be an easy first round opponent for Rob Cross. It looks as though Cross is getting closer to his top form but at the moment his darts are not really consistent. It might turn out to be an advantage for Cross that he already has some experience on the Blackpool stage.

Danny Noppert

Age: 28
Nickname: Noppie
Best TV run: 2018 Players Championship Finals – semi-final
Betfred tournament odds: 200/1
First round opponent: Gary Anderson

Danny Noppert is another former BDO player who sees his debut on the Blackpool stage. Noppert appeared in 2013 out from nowhere in the quarterfinals of the Winmau World Masters. Prior to this he had only taken part in tournaments in the Netherlands. In 2015, he won several tournaments – the Scottish Open, the Masters of Wregem, the German Open, the Four Nations – and stood in the quarterfinals of the BDO World Trophy. By this he got an invitation to the Grand Slam and reached the last 8.

Noppert debuted in the BDO World Championship 2017 and reached the final but lost to Glen Durrant. After that he only played a few events in 2017 but won the Zuiderduin Masters. In 2018, he took part in Qualifying School and got a Tour Card as first in the ranking. Noppert played with some success on the European Tour. In the autumn he won in Dublin one of the two Players Championships before the World Grand Prix and reached the semifinals of two other Pro Tour events. In 2019, he again reached two semi-finals on the Pro Tour.

Noppert’s big problem is motivation. His trouble motivating himself ended in his break in 2017. It might be he overcame the problem by joining the PDC.

Noppert’s first round opponent is the reigning champion Gary Anderson. Not really a good omen for successful debut. But Anderson hasn‘t played a lot recently due to his back problems – though it is well known that he is quite capable of wining tournaments out of nowhere. And both players share the problem with motivation.


Column #CM 61 World Matchplay 2019 – Debutantes Part 1

Monday, July 22, 2019
Column CM61
World Matchplay 2019 – Debutantes Part 1

This year seven debutantes will stand for the first time at the World Matchplay oche, one more than last year. One could rate it as another sign of the changing of the guard though two of the debutantes are already older than forty – Glen Durrant and Krzysztof Ratajski – and the others have been quite successful for several years with Nathan Aspinall leading the way. He has already won two TV tournaments.  

Nathan Aspinall

Age: 27
Nickname: The Asp
Best TV run: 2019 UK Open – winner, 2019 US Darts Masters – winner
Betfred tournament odds: 25/1
First round opponent: Mervyn King

Nathan Aspinall started his PDC career on the PDC Development and PDC Challenge Tour which he played since 2010. His start was not really a success. In 2013, he reached his first Development Tour semi-final and lost to Max Hopp. He tried to win a Tour Card in 2013 but failed. Aspinall moved for a short time to the BDO. In 2015, he for a second time took part in Qualifying School and this time got his Tour Card. It followed a first UK Open appearance which ended in the fourth round of the event where he lost to James Wade. He qualified for a first European tour event and reached the third round. He got a win on the Development Tour and ended in a not high-class final of the PDC World Youth Championship where he again lost to Max Hopp. In 2016 and 2017 not much happened in Aspinall’s darting live. He didn’t survive the group phase of the Grand Slam 2016.

Then Aspinall’s career explodes. In 2018, he won a Players Championship and qualified for the PDC World Championship 2019 – his first World Championship. Aspinall played sensational in the semi-finals where he was defeated by Michael Smith. Aspinall is rewarded by a place as a Contender in the Premier League after Gary Anderson had to withdraw due to his back problems. Aspinall once again qualified for the UK Open and in another sensational display wins the event – with a 170 finish. He is nominated for the World Series event in Las Vegas and he celebrates another win.

Aspinall is now sponsored by Target and his first Target darts – the Nathan Aspinall GEN 1 – are on the market. He was able to chuck his job as an accountant. He feels by his job he learned to focus and to not give in when under pressure. Today, darts is his job which means, for him, he doesn’t just hang hang up a dartboard at home but goes to practice at his managers. His home means family and there work has no place. Though it first was a risk to chuck his job by now his manager and his sponsors – and of course his achievements – financially cover his back and he is able to concentrate on his darts. Since the UK Open everybody knows his granddad and the story that some years ago he visited together with Nathan the UK Open. They had the worst places possible and Nathan told his granddad that one day he would lift this trophy.

To be sure a debut is always something special and the World Matchplay is a very special tournament as well. But by know we know Aspinall better and no doubt he has the chance to progress far in the tournament.

Krzysztof Ratajski

Age: 42
Nickname: Polish Eagle
Best TV run: 2018 and 2019 UK Open – last 16, 2018 Grand Slam of Darts – last 16, 2018 Players Championship Finals – last 16, 2013 and 2019 World Cup of Darts – last 16
Betfred tournament odds: 66/1
First round opponent: Darren Webster

Years ago, Krzysztof Ratajski‘s nickname was the “Polish Champion.” He was a successful soft-dart player. In 2008, he won with the Denmark Open, his first steel dart event. After this win concentrated more on steel darts and in 2009 for the first time qualified for the BDO World Championship. In the same year he was crowned Polish Nation Champion and won the Czech Open. In 2010, he was invited for the first time to the PDC World Cup, to which he returned in 2011. Since 2015, he’s played on the PDC European Tour and also still in BDO/WDF tournaments.

Ratajski reached the last 16 of the Winmau world Masters in 2015. In 2017, the PDC introduced the Eastern Europe Qualifiers for the European Tour and Ratajski qualified for eleven of twelve Tour events. He took part again in the Winmau World Masters in 2017 and won the tournament as unseeded player. He qualified for the PDC World Championship in 2018 and the European Championship in 2017 and finally joined the PDC.

Astonishingly, he was not able to get a Tour Card in Qualifying School in 2018. As an Associate member he qualified for the UK Open and reached the last 16. He won a Challenge Tour event (and threw a 9-darter) and a Players Championship. Ratajski again qualified for the PDC World Championship 2019, but is defeated first round. In 2019, he won his Tour Card, again stood among the last 16 at the UK Open and won another Players Championship.

Ratajski started to play darts when he was twenty. He is a strong player and an awkward opponent – one hears he does not always play fair. Ratajski is not married but darts player Karolina Podgorska is his partner.

As Darren Webster is not playing his best this year Ratajski has a good chance to survive the first round of the World Matchplay. Whether he’ll be able to progress further depends on the performance of his next opponent, Rob Cross or Chris Dobey.

Ricky Evans

Age: 28
Nickname: Rapid
Best TV run: 2018 European Championship – last 16, 2018 Players Championship Finals – last 16
Betfred tournament odds: 150/1
First round opponent: Daryl Gurney

Ricky Evans played from 2007 to 2012 without success on the BDO Circuit. In 2013, he took part in Qualifying School and got a Tour Card. In the same year he reached a Players Championship Final and the final of the PDC World Youth Championship, and lost both times. By this he is qualified for the Grand Slam and the PDC World Championship 2014. But 2014 was not as good for Evans.

In 2015, he managed at least to qualify for the PDC World Championship 2016 where he defeated in the first round Simon Whitlock with an unbelievable comeback. In 2017, he was back in the Alexandra Palace but lost his first round match. Another unremarkable year follows.

In 2018 progress shows – Evans reaches a European Tour final and qualifies for the World Grand Prix, the Players Championship Finals and the PDC World Championship 2019. This year, he has already reached a Players Championship final and an European Tour final.

Evans worked at a gas station but now is a full-time pro and completely concentrates on darts. As one knows, he celebrates wins with a cheeseburger and a slot of vodka. Last year, to the delight of the crowd he walked-on to “Baby Shark“ which was the result of a bet. Evans got his nickname “Rapid” with good reason: he is a very fast thrower and throws his three darts in three to five seconds. In this way, until now, he scored what stands as probably the fastest 180 at the start of a match. Evans says Rob Cross is his inspiration.

His chances of a first round win depend on Daryl Gurney‘s performance. Consistency doesn’t seem to be one of Gurney’s strengths yet so it is difficult to foresee what will happen. Evans second round opponent would be either Jonny Clayton or Keegan Brown. Brown played well recently – it could get rather difficult for Evans.