Author Archives: Charis Mutschler

Column #CM102 As soon as…

Friday, October 1, 2021
Column CM102
As soon as…

…or even just before the leaves start to fall, the PDC tournament calendar starts to bristle, and we can see tournament after tournament.  The Hungarian Darts Trophy, PDC World Cup, Nordic Darts Masters, Gibraltar Darts Trophy, Women’s Series – all that reeled off in front of our eyes in August.  And it just doesn’t stop as the darting highlights now start to pile up.

It is only a few days before the World Grand Prix will begin – no, not in Dublin, at least not this year, but in Leicester – which definitely is a pity as the World Grand Prix was for years always an “Irish” tournament (though of course it has been some years it stopped being so – since the to be PDC dropped the two qualifying places for players from Ireland in favour of more qualifiers from the Pro Tour Order of Merit). And this year there will be no City West Hotel in Ireland either, only the Morningside Arena in Leicester.  I really hope the tournament will be able next year to return to where in my eyes it belongs…

Of course, the venue is not the only singularity as the format differs from all other PDC events as well – the World Grand Prix is the only PDC double-in tournament.  And this didn’t change – luckily, as otherwise it wouldn’t stand out at all this year. It would just be another one in a row of big PDC TV events.

Though there are no Irish qualifiers we’ll see two Irish players, Brendan Dolan and Daryl Gurney, who both qualified by the Pro Tour Order of Merit as both are not among the top 16 of the PDC Order of Merit.  Daryl Gurney just dropped out but hopes to return to the form in which he won the World Grand Prix four years ago.  Brendan Dolan is moving up the rankings slowly and is currently playing very solid darts.  He has a special history with the World Grand Prix as well – in 2011, he threw the very first World Grand Prix nine-darter and reached the final.  (By the way, this nine-darter is the reason for his nickname: “History-Maker.”  I almost can’t believe that happened ten years ago… well, of course it would be great if Dolan could succeed in doing something special once again this year.

Due to the double-in and the short format of the first round matches the tournament is always one with a lot of upsets – even Phil Taylor during his best years and when entering the tournament as the top seed was dumped out of the tournament a few times in the first round by players like Andy Callaby and Adrian Gray.

This year, the #1 seed and the favourite to win with the betting companies is Gerwyn Price who just won the Hungarian Darts Trophy.  He will start the tournament against Michael Smith as he tries to defend the title he won last year.

While the World Grand Prix may no longer be an “Irish” tournament it is certainly an international tournament.  The English players still are the strongest group among the participants with fourteen players followed by the Dutch with five.  Besides two each from Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland we’ll see a Portuguese, a Belgian, an Austrian, an Australian, a German, a Pole and even (for the first time) a Lithuanian.  And these players are no longer exotic outsiders added for spice in the mix – at least the Portuguese and the Belgian could do some damage.

This year again, some players will give their debut on the World Grand Prix stage and, due to the short European Tour season, some of them are some kind of surprise debutants. We have: 

Damon Heta

Age: 34
Nickname: The Heat
Best TV Performances : Quarterfinals PDC World Cup of Darts 2021
First Round Opponent: James Wade
PDC Order of Merit: Rank 37

Heta seems to be kind of ever present in this year’s events though he never seems to advance too deep in a tournament.  But he steadily moves up the rankings and one can’t rule it out that he will get the better of James Wade in the first round of the World Grand Prix. That would mean he meets either Stephen Bunting or Daryl Gurney in round 2.  Both could be too much for him in a then longer format. 

Luke Humphries

Age: 26
Nickname: The Heat
Best Performance on TV: Final UK Open 2021
First Round Opponent: Dirk van Duijvenbode
PDC Order of Merit:  Rank 26

Humphries’ best run this year came in the UK Open where he lost in the final to James Wade.  He can always be a threat and as Dirk van Duijvenbode (his first-round opponent in this one) is not at his best at the moment Humphries could well be the winner.  Second round would be Dimitri van den Bergh or Ryan Searle – Humphries will need to produce if he wants to progress further.

Ross Smith

Age: 32
Nickname: Smudger
Best Performance on TV: Quarterfinal UK Open 2019
First Round Opponent: Joe Cullen
PDC Order of Merit: Rank 38

Ross Smith to be sure is a surprise bag.  He really can play darts but often doesn’t show it.  He didn’t qualify for the Gibraltar Darts Trophy – the last PDC event.  Perhaps he used the time to practice his doubles.  Joe Cullen is not one of the most consistent players either so this could be a close match leading to a second-round meeting with either Dave Chisnall or Mensur Suljovic, which could go either way as well.

Callan Rydz

Age: 23
Nickname: The Riot
Best Performance on TV: Quarterfinals World Matchplay 2021
First Round Opponent: Jonny Clayton
PDC Order of Merit: Rank 43

Well, this one is the youngest of the debutants and still far from a settled player.  But in the Gibraltar Darts Trophy he played two outstanding matches and probably will be full of confidence while Jonny Clayton had his problems both in the World Cup and in the Gibraltar Darts Trophy.  Should Callan Rydz play like he did in his first two matches of the GDT Clayton will have a hard time.  And Rydz could meet Jose de Sousa in the second round.

Martijn Kleermaker

Nickname: The Dutch Giant
Best Performance on TV: Last 16 UK Open 2021
First Round Opponent: Mervyn King
PDC Order of Merit: Rank 56

It still is a surprise to me how Kleermaker managed to qualify for the World Grand Prix.  He is quite a solid player but, so far, is a long way from top level.  Mervyn King should be able to overcome him in the first round.

And finally, we have:

Darius Labanauskas

Nickname: Lucky D
Best Performance on TV: Quarterfinals PDC World Championship 2020
First Round Opponent: Brendan Dolan
PDC Order of Merit: Rank 40

The first ever Lithuanian player to qualify for the World Grand Prix – he didn’t qualify for the Gibraltar Darts Trophy, and he was eliminated in the first round of the Nordic Darts Masters.  But Labanauskas dominates together with Madars Razma of the Nordic and Baltic Tour of the PDC.  He is on his day a really good player, but his first-round opponent is Brendan Dolan who looks to be in good form and who to be sure will intend to have an impact in the World Grand Prix, even though it is not played in Ireland.  Labanauskas will not have a good chance here…

I’m looking forward to the tournament.  Other than our TV program it will offer great entertainment, hopefully upsets and some thrilling matches.

Column #CM101 It’s World Cup Time!

Wednesday, September 8, 2021
Column CM101
It’s World Cup Time!

The time has come – the PDC World Cup is GAME ON!

While last year the tournament had to be played due to the Corona pandemic behind the closed doors of the Salzburg Arena in Salzburg, the World Cup this year returns to Germany and will be played with a crowd in Jena.  As the pandemic is far from over the number of spectators is limited to 900 a session and there are still regulations – you have either to be tested or to be fully vaccinated or to have recovered to be allowed in, and you must wear a mask when you don’t sit at your place.

Among the players we had saw only one refusal due to the pandemic – Gary Anderson decided to stay at home as he did last year.  All other players decided to travel to Germany though some – like Paul Lim – with mixed emotions.

It is the eleventh edition of the event and many of the participating countries are taking part for the eleventh time though the composition of the teams has changed over the years. But there are some players who are representing their country for the eleventh time – Simon Whitlock, Brendan Dolan, Mensur Suljovic and William O’Connor.  Team Philippines will consist this year of the two players who appeared in the first edition – Lourence Ilagan and Christian Perez.  On other teams two debutants will stand at the oche – for example, the Chinese team includes Jianfeng Lu and Wenqing Liu.  Not much is known about them, and they stand for the first time on an international stage.  The same applies to the Japanese Team.

Who could be a possible winner?  One can’t answer this with confidence but let’s have a look on the seeded teams.

To be sure, the reigning champion Team Wales with the World Champion Gerwyn Price and the Premier League winner Jonny Clayton is one of the favourites.  This team is one others will have to beat should one intend to win the event.  It’s already known that the two players are a real team.  Both players are in good form.  Price just won the Hungarian Darts Trophy.  Their first-round opponent will be Team Finland.  But though the Finn’s Marko Kantele and Veijo Viinikka are very experienced players they probably will not have a chance against the Welshmen.

Team Belgium is a harmonising team as well – rarely did one see Kim Huybrechts as relaxed as at his appearances together with Dimitri van den Bergh in the PDC World Cup.  But it’s been a long time since one has seen Huybrechts in top form.  Dimitri van den Bergh reached a semi-final in Super Series 6, and he loves the big stage and the crowd.  Belgium will meet Team Greece in the first round which moved up for Team Croatia.  Though John Michael played well in the Hungarian Darts Trophy it will be difficult for Team Greece to survive the first round.

Whether Team Northern Ireland really works as a team I still don’t know, even after all the years they have played together – since 2016 Brendan Dolan and Daryl Gurney have played for their country.  But one can say both players are in good form.  Gurney presented himself in the Hungarian Darts Trophy near his best form.  So, Team Northern Ireland to be sure is a serious opponent and it would be a surprise should they not at least survive the first-round match against Hong Kong.

The German team is back among the seeds this year.  As last year, Max Hopp and Gabriel Clemens will play together – and both didn’t convince recently.  Clemens and Hopp are also not as good together as Max Hopp and Martin Schindler, but German teams usually have team spirit.  With Team Canada – Jeff Smith and Matt Campbell – the German team has drawn a strong first round opponent.  They will need a lot of team spirit to overcome them.

As well and as last year, Team Australia will come on stage – Simon Whitlock will play together with Damon Heta.  For the Australian team it is a rather special situation – the shock over Kyle Anderson’s sudden death still looms large and it will probably bind them together in a rather special way.  To be sure they will want to show their best performance for their friend.  Heta played better then Whitlock in the Hungarian Darts Trophy but now they have a shared objective.  It will be difficult for Team Italy – debutants Danilo Vigato and Michele Turetta – to oppose that.

Besides, we find among the seeded – Team England, Team Netherlands and Team Scotland who all will stand at the oche in new composition.

For Team Netherland the World Cup-experienced Michael van Gerwen will play together with World Cup debutant Dirk van Duijvenbode.  I’ve no idea whether they will be a good team.  But both players are too strong as individual players to lose against the Danish players Andreas Toft Joegensen and Nils Heinsoe in the first round.  Whether they will be a good enough team to be among the favourites to win the event will only show during the event.

Team Scotland has never before stood at the oche with Peter Wright and John Henderson.  Wright was no good in the Hungarian Darts Trophy but previously won a Players Championship.  Henderson last year played the World Cup together with Robert Thornton and they were not bad and won their first-round match.  So, Wright/Henderson could become a good team even though they might be not the favourite for the tournament win.  Team Scotland meets completely unknown Team China in the first round.  The Scotsman should be able to win that match.

And finally, we have the number 1 seed Team England which consists of James Wade and Dave Chisnall this year.  For me that really was a surprise.  I had to read that twice… James Wade and Dave Chisnall!

It is only the second time Wade will play in the World Cup.  The first time he played together with Phil Taylor in the inaugural event, and it didn’t work at all.  They were the number 1 seed as well but lost in a sensational match in the second round against Team Spain.

Well, and this time it will be Wade and Chisnall (who already played once together with Adrian Lewis and once with Rob Cross).  It is difficult to assess whether Wade can be a team player at all, but I am sure it will work better together with Chisnall then it did with Taylor.  It might be it will work so well that Team England will be one of the favourites for the win in the end.  But first they must defeat Team Brazil with Diogo Portela and Artur Valle – it should be a solvable task.

From the 24 unseeded teams some stand out.  Among others we have Team Austria with Mensur Suljovic and Rowby-John Rodriguez – a well-practiced team, though in 2018 and 2019 Suljovic played together with Zoran Lerchbacher.  It is difficult to rate the form of the team.  Suljovic was eliminated early in the Hungarian Darts Trophy while Rodriguez was in good form on the Challenge Tour.  In the first round they will meet Team Philippines with Lourence Ilagan and Christian Perez – a team one shouldn’t underestimate.

A strong unseeded team probably will be Team Canada.  To be sure it will be difficult to overcome Team Germany in the first round.  Matt Campbell just got his Tour Card by dominating on the European Challenge Tour.

Another team which might turn out to be a threat is Team Portugal – Jose de Sousa is a very strong player and always good for a surprise.  So, the first-round match between Team Portugal and the team from the Republic of Ireland – William O’Connor and Steve Lennon – could turn out to be a highlight of the first round.

On the team of the Czech Republic, one finds Adam Gawlas who was so impressive in the Hungarian Darts Trophy and who only just lost to Jose des Sousa in the quarterfinals.  His team colleague Karel Sedlacek is not a bad player either and their match against Team Poland – Krzysztof Ratajski/Krzysztof Kciuk – could as well be a highlight.

We can look forward to a thrilling tournament which looks rather open to me.  Such a constellation promised upsets, close matches and hopefully a lot of doubles – which for me are part of the attraction of the tournament.

Column #CM100 World Matchplay 2021 – The Debutants

Friday, July 16, 2021
Column CM100
World Matchplay 2021 – The Debutants

As a darts fan, one almost couldn’t wait for the World Matchplay after this year’s thrilling Premier League, which in the end produced the surprise winner Jonny Clayton.  Clayton was the last player nominated – only after his win of the Masters.  Only just did he reach the play-offs.  But he won in the semi-finals against Michael van Gerwen and in the final against Jose des Sousa (who was another debutant in Premier League this year).

In the upcoming World Matchplay we’ll find several debutants as well – seven players qualified for the first time for the tournament.  But I am not sure they will make such an impact in the event as the Premier League debutants did.

In this column they all will be introduced…

Luke Humphries
Age: 26
Nickname: Cool Hand
Best Performance on TV: Final – UK Open 2021
First Round Opponent: James Wade

The former PDC World Youth Champion this year already had a big appearance when he reached the final of the UK Open where he lost to James Wade.  Nevertheless, the UK Open was a big success for Humphries, especially as he defeated in the semi-finals Michael van Gerwen and demolished him with an 107.41 average.  But he was far from outstanding in the Super Series 5, the last test before the World Matchplay – one first round exit, two second round eliminations and only one last 16 appearance.

But many players are stronger on stage in front of a crowd.  Humphries will meet in his first round match, of all players, James Wade – he still has to settle a score with him. Wade is always a difficult opponent one shouldn’t risk to underestimate and he is by now a rather consistent player.  He didn;t play outstanding in Super Series 5, but solid.  So, it will not be an easy first round game for Humphries.  And in the second round Krzysztof Ratajski or Brendan Dolan would wait.  One hasn’t heard much from Ratajski recently but Dolan is in top form and won one of the Super Series 5 events.  All it in all not an easy starting position for Humphries at his World Matchplay debut.

Ryan Searle
Age: 34
Nickname: Heavy Metal
Best Performance on TV: Last 16 – PDC World Championship 2019, 2021
First Round Performance: Michael Smith

Ryan Searle’s Super Series 5 was a roller-coaster experience – two times he was eliminated first round, once he reached the last 16 and one time he played himself into the semi-finals.  At his world Matchplay debut he will meet Michael Smith whose form is similarly inscrutable.  Smith was not nominated for this year’s Premier League.  So, you could presume he wants to prove himself and the PDC that he is a Premier League player nevertheless.  Recently, he has shown he is capable of fighting through a match but Searle is capable to do it as well.  It could turn out an evenly matched first round game.  The second round opponent would be either Jose de Sousa or Gabriel Clemens – not really easier for Searle.  And in round three with Peter Wright, Danny Noppert, Joe Cullen or Chris Dobey some more difficult opponents would follow. S o might be it will be an early end to Searle’s World Matchplay debut.

Callan Rydz
Age: 23
Nickname: The Riot
Best Performance on TV: Fifth Round – UK Open 2021
First Round Opponent: Glen Durrant

Callan Rydz won one of the events of the first super Series of the year and reached the fifth round of the UK Open but since then one hasn‘t heard much of him.  In the Super Series 5 he once reached the third round which was his best result.  But nevertheless he has a chance to survive his first round match as his opponent will be Glen Durrant who seems to be in an ongoing slump since he recovered from his Corona illness.  In the second round the winner of their first round match would meet the winner of the match Rob Cross vs. Ross Smith.  Cross seems to be in rising form and Ross Smith just won a Super Series 5 event – both opponents probably a high or even too high hurdle for Rydz.  And in round three James Wade or Brendan Dolan could wait.

Devon Petersen
Age: 35
Nickname: The African Warrior
Best Performance on TV: Quarterfinal – UK Open 2021
First Round Opponent: Dimitri van den Bergh

Devon Petersen is a surprise bag – you never know in which form he will turn up.  He is just not consistent.  The UK Open quarterfinals was his best results this year.  Since then, his form is fair to middling.  But he could be one of the players who benefit that there will be a crowd at the World Matchplay.  On the other side his opponent is the reigning champion Dimitri van den Bergh.  Van den Bergh does not always respond well to pressure and there will be a lot of pressure on his shoulders.  He played quite well in Super Series 5.  It is very difficult to predict what will happen in this match.  In the second round Dave Chisnall or Vincent van der Voort will wait – both not unbeatable though Chisnall is a player who often impresses with outstanding matches and van der Voort is consistent and solid.

Damon Heta
Age: 34
Nickname: The Heat
Best Performance on TV: Third Round – UK Open 2021
First Round Opponent: Michael van Gerwen

Damon Heta started well into the Super Series 5 but faded away.  And his first round opponent is no other then Michael van Gerwen.  van Gerwen is not as unbeatable as he has been but Heta would need his A game to defeat him or at least would have to be absolutely clinical on his doubles.  In round two his opponent would be either Daryl Gurney or Ian White.  It’s difficult to assess their form but I would think they would be easier to defeat for Heta then his first round opponent.

Dirk van Duijvenbode

Age: 29
Nickname: The Titan/Auberginius
Best Performance on TV: Final – World Grand Prix 2020
First Round Opponent: Jonny Clayton

Dirk van Duijvenbode always is good for an upset but can you really hope for one against Premier League Champion Jonny Clayton?  van Duijvenbode did not have a good Super Series 5 and only once reached the third round while Clayton by now seems to be a consistent player, who reacts to tricky situations with nerves of steel.  It will be a difficult task for van Duijvenbode.  And should he win, his next opponent probably would be Gerwyn Price.  Whether Price will be able to show up strong is uncertain.  He missed Premier League and to be sure will want to show why he is World Champion.  There will be a lot of pressure on his shoulders.

Ross Smith
Age: 32
Nickname: Smudger
Best Performance on TV: Quarterfinal – UK Open 2019
First Round Opponent: Rob Cross

Ross Smith enters the World Matchplay as winner of the penultimate Players Championship of Super Series 5, but until now Smith hasn‘t succeeded, despite his from time to time good results, to get into the top players‘ tier.  Here in the World Matchplay he gets another chance to show he can consistently produce as it is to be sure not impossible to defeat Rob Cross.  But Cross‘ form is getting better and he might be just the more experienced player.  It would be possible for Smith to survive the second round as well should he prevail over Cross as the opponents would be Glen Durrant or Callan Rydz.  Only in the third round it would begin to be really difficult for Smith as Wade or Dolan would wait.

Five times so far a debutant has stood in the final of the World Matchplay and only twice has a debutant won it: in 1994 (Larry Butler) and 2020 (Dimitri van den Bergh).  I don’t think one of this year’s debutants can win the tournament and I am sceptical that one of them can reach the final.  But they are all capable to spring a surprise and to be sure each of them is a gain for the tournament.

Column #CM99 The second half of the Premier League begins!

Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Column CM99
The second half of the Premier League begins!

The second half of the Premier League begins today and – in what is certain to be a joy for the players and fans – on the last four League days and the play-offs a thousand fans per night will be allowed in the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.

For me as television viewer, until now – even without a live crowd – it has still been an interesting and often thrilling Premier League.  But a crowd brings that “extra something” to a live sport event.  You never know in which way (or whether at all) the crowd will affect the players.

Of course, the crowd could have a positive effect on players like Michael van Gerwen and Peter Wright who might flourish.  But all in all, the Premier League so far, behind closed doors, has been a spectacle and the only downer was Glen Durrant’s battle against exactly what, who knows.

It might be Durrant’s problems stem from his Covid illness – or it could be he has lost all self-belief.  He thinks he has a problem with his throw and was not really happy with the sympathy of his colleagues which draw him down even more.  Probably no one will be happy should he again find his form.

Apart from that, Rob Cross – who was the second player eliminated after Judgement Night – went out on a high.  All in all, he played much better than before the tournament, though it was not enough to survive. But to be sure he can build on it.

So far, after each League day the table changed completely.  One could enter among the top four and after the night be in the thick of the battle against elimination.

Between the head of the table and the last in the table before the second half there are only five points.  Two players head the table with thirteen points each – Nathan Aspinall and Dimitri van den Bergh, the two youngest players in the event.  None of the players won all their matches, none of the players dominated and there were none who didn’t sway between outstanding and mediocre performances.

Two of the debutants – Jonny Clayton and Jose de Sousa – threw nine-darters and de Sousa equalled the record for 180s thrown. The three debutants all showed that they were justly nominated, and all are a real gain for the tournament.  de Sousa sometimes presented us – well, actually, himself – with arithmetic challenges, and then often offered creative solutions!

James Wade, who moved up after Gerwyn Price tested positive for Covid, took his time to warm up but now can be found in the thick of the battle.

At the moment, Gary Anderson is the player with the most problems – he tells himself he is playing crap but that can change from day to day.

This year, Michael van Gerwen has a better chance to reach the play-offs but still is in the hunt for his consistency.

And so, after the first half of the season it is still more or less unpredictable who will win this year’s Premier League.  It is difficult as well to predict who will be the four players to reach the play-offs.  But there is no player in the race who wouldn’t deserve it.

I can only say, assuredly, that all those players who seemed to be out of form before the tournament are now on top of their game.  It is a Premier League in which all players are on par – and I can say that I neither miss Gerwyn Price nor Michael Smith (who said recently that he should be in Premier League ahead of those players who were nominated).

I am looking forward to the second half of the season and I am sure I will feel entertained again.

Who will win in the end? Isn’t that almost subsidiary?

Column #CM98 Premier League – who will win?

Sunday, April 4, 2021
Column CM98
Premier League – who will win?

For the second year in a row, we will not see a “normal” Premier League.  Due to the continuing pandemic the Premier League will again be played without a crowd this year – and to be sure this was one of the reasons the PDC chose not to contest League once a week on Thursdays, as in pre-COVID times, but to pool the competition in four blocks instead.  Certainly, this is less thrilling – and one must be a diehard fan to follow on consecutive days the same ten players at the oche.

However, the mix of players makes this year’s Premier League especially unpredictable.  Rarely have known as little about the form of the players before the start of a season.  There could be some upsets…

This year, reigning champion Glen Durrant, last year’s runner-up Nathan Aspinall, the World Champion and current world ranked #1 Gerwyn Price, the surprise runner-up in the World Championship Gary Anderson, former World Champions Michael van Gerwen, Rob Cross and Peter Wright, the former World Youth Champion and last year’s World Matchplay winner Dimitri van den Bergh, this year’s Masters winner Jonny Clayton and last year’s Grand Slam winner Jose des Sousa will take part.

On paper an illustrious field…

Not nominated were players like James Wade, who won this year’s UK Open and plays very consistently, or Joe Cullen, who is another one of those players who showed strong performances this year.  Also not invited are some players who competed in the Premier League for several years – like Daryl Gurney, Michael Smith and Mensur Suljovic.

Of course, as is always the case not all darts fans will be happy with the nominated players – though the criteria are the same.  What did change this time was that the PDC waited until the Masters to nominate the last player – Jonny Clayton.

But what stands out this year is that at least half of the participants are performing far from their best…

Glen Durrant is not yet fully recovered from COVID but still plays – despite small signs of getting back to form, most of the time he averages of under 90.  With the exception of just a few matches Rob Cross has not been near his top level.  Nathan Aspinall was far from his form even before pandemic – it might be he just tries too much.  And after his Grand Slam victory, Jose de Sousa was most of the time, to phrase it cautiously, very unimpressive.  The same can be said of Dimitri van den Bergh.

Michael van Gerwen has for some time shown a lack of form and is very often far from deadly on his doubles.  He missed the second Super series and went on holiday instead.  Peter Wright won (as did Jonny Clayton and Gerwyn Price) one of the events of the second Super Series, but his performances were inconsistent – he seemed to attract more attention with his verbal skirmishing with Michael van Gerwen than with his level of play.  Gary Anderson was often inconsistent, was simply no good during the second Super Series and didn’t play it to the end.  But of course, Anderson is a player who has proven he can compete at an amazing standard without a lot of preparation – remember the last World Championship!

In the end we have only two players (maybe two and a half!) who this year have been convincing – Gerwyn Price and Jonny Clayton (this year’s high-flyer) and with reservations, Peter Wright.

So, after what we have seen this year a Welsh winner of the Premier League would seem most likely, and his strongest rival could be a Welsh player as well…

This year’s Premier League is a kind of surprise bag and one can only hope for us darts fans that all the inconsistent players prepared well and will play an appealingly season.

It might be the format will help get the players in form and jump-start them, so that we’ll see a high-class Premier League after all, in which all the players will live up to their potential.

Let’s hope they will take us by surprise!

Column #CM97 The final of the 2003 PDC World Championship

Saturday, January 2, 2021
Column CM97
The Final of the 2003 PDC World Championship

The final of the 2003 PDC World Championship counts – along with the inaugural world championship final and the 2008 women’s final – among the best darts matches in the history of the sport and, as in the Women’s final it interrupted an era.  And there is another parallel – for the first time a player not from England, not even from Europe in this case, won the PDC World Championship.

In 2003 the PDC World Championship still took place in the Circus Tavern in Purfleet. Smoking was still permitted, international fans were rare and most people who watched on TV were from the UK .

The number of participants was 40.  There were a few international qualifiers – one from Australia, one from the Netherlands and one from the USA. As today, a PDPA qualifier was played and that year four tournament places were allocated.

Qualifying as well was the winner of the SP 9-Dart Challenge. The other participants (32) qualified by the Order of Merit. The top 16 were seeded and entered the tournament in the Second Round.

Interesting, as a side-line: the Australian qualifier was Simon Whitlock who joined the BDO in 2004 – and he defeated Peter Manley in the second round before he was eliminated in the third round by Richie Burnett. Besides Steve Beaton, Whitlock was the only player who still took part in the PDC World Championship this year.

Interesting as well: among the PDPA qualifiers was Al Hedman, the brother of Deta Hedman (who was Deta’s inspiration to take up the sport of darts).  He’s been retired for a long time already.  So Deta is the second Hedman playing in a PDC World Championship.

Also quite interesting: John Lowe, who lost in the inaugural World Championship final in 1978 against Leighton Rees, was still among the participants in a World Championship in 2003 – though it was the PDC World Championship now, as he was one of the players who in 1993 turned away from the BDO to found the PDC (at that time WDC).

Meanwhilw, in the BDO Women’s World Championship it was for many years quite clear that Trina Gulliver would win there was no doubt whatsoever that it was Phil Taylor who would win the PDC World Championship title.

With the exception of the inaugural tournament Taylor had won all eight editions and everybody expected he would win his ninth title in a row.  Taylor had lost a lot of weight before the tournament.  He had added blond strains to his hair and wore a golden earing in his ear.

Taylor went into the tournament as the #1 seed.  His later opponent in the final John Part was the #2 seed.

When you review the 16 seeded players you see quite a lot of well-known names like John Lowe (who at the time was the #13 in the PDC Order of Merit), Kevin Painter, Colin Lloyd, Roland Scholten, Wayne Mardle, Cliff Lazarenko, Bob Anderson and Steve Beaton.

Rod Harrington, Alan Warriner (at the time ranked #4 in the world) and Chris Mason changed from active players to commentators as did Wayne Mardle and John Part.  Roland Scholten, who was for some time the darts expert on Sport 1, is now the German national coach.  Keith Deller managed Adrian Lewis.

As always in a World Championship there were some upsets in the second round in which the top 16 entered the tournament – and Peter Manley, Andy Jenkins, John Lowe and Peter Evison didn’t survive their first match.

From the qualifiers only Simon Whitlock survived the first round.  Deta Hedman’s brother Al lost 0-4 to Bob Anderson.

Phil Taylor started his challenge to defend the title with a 4-1 win against American Steve Brown. His average was 103.44.  John Part played in the lower half of the draw first against Cliff Lazarenko. He won 4-1 as well but his average was only 88.67.

In the next round Taylor played against Wayne Mardle.  It was not an easy game – Mardle won three sets – but in the end Taylor won 5-3 and his average dropped to just under 100.

Part’s second opponent was Scotsman Jamie Harvey.  Part won 5-3 as well and he improved his average to 97.

In the quarterfinals Phil Taylor defeated Dennis Smith – who was well known for his interesting throwing style – with 5-3 too and his average was back to over 100.  Part’s quarterfinal opponent was Chris Mason and Part on this day was just too good for Mason.  He defeated him 5-0 – and perhaps this could have been viewed as a first warning to Taylor that Part could present problems for him.

But probably Taylor didn’t give it a thought as he had destroyed Part two years prior in the final and had beaten him 2002 – both in the World Matchplay and the World Grand Prix.

The fourth of January was semi-finals time in the Circus Tavern and Part was the only player not from England still in the tournament…

This time, Taylor had an easier time than Part – he played against Alan Warriner who was unable to keep up.  Warriner lost 1-6 and probably Taylor was not even tired after the match.  For Taylor, the win over Warriner was satisfying as Warriner had before the tournament lamented that the PDC only revolved around Taylor and that he was fed up with it – something Taylor put right with his darts.

Part faced Kevin Painter, a much tougher opponent on the day, but won 6-4 and for the second time progressed into the final.

The final took place on the fifth of January – it was a memorable match which lasted almost three hours. The Canadian stormed into a 3-0 lead but after that took a sort of “break” and Taylor had the advantage.  But this time he couldn’t get rid of Part and Taylor started to tire…

The match went into a deciding set…

Part won the final 7-6 and interrupted Taylor’s dominance in the PDC at least for some time.  Taylor averaged in the final 99.89, Part 96.86.

In the following year everything was back to business as usual…

Taylor won the title another six times, the last time in 2013 (and also twice stood in the final).  Part won the World Championship once again in 2008, in the year when the tournament for the first time took place in Alexandra Palace, a completely different world than the smoky Circus Tavern – a venue crammed with partying international fans and which is televised all over the world.  In 2003, 610,000 fans watched the final on TV, most of them in the UK and Part earned £50,000 in price money.

It was in 1998 that Part qualified for the first time for the PDC World Championship and until 2016 took part in the event every year.  In 1998, he lost in the first round to Paul Lim, who contrary to Part, qualified for this year’s World Championship once again.

Besides Part, over the years many other Canadian players qualified for the PDC World Championship.  In 1999, it was Scott Cummings and Gary Mawson – Cummings returned in 2001 together with the first woman to compete in a PDC World Championship, Canadian Gayle King.

Gerry Convery qualified from 2005 – 2008.  Rory Orvis appeared in 2004, John Verwey in 2005.  In 2008 there was David Fatum.  There was Dave Richardson in 2015, Ross Snook in 2017 and Jim Long and Matt Campbell in 2020 and 2021, the latter who played a great match against Scott Waites this year.

Besides Campbell, Jeff Smith stood at the oche this year.  He reached the final of the BDO World Championship in 2016 but then switched to the PDC. He qualified 2018 and 2019 as well for the PDC World Championship and got himself a Tour Card in Qualifying School 2020.

Smith seems to improve more and more – as far as one can assess it in this Corona year.  In the Summer Series he for the first time stood in a Players Championship semi-final. Together with Matt Campbell he reached the quarterfinals of the PDC World Cup and he for the first time qualified for the PDC World Championship by the Pro Tour Order of Merit.

Smith won his first round match against young Irishman Keane Barry but lost second round in a good match to Chris Dobey.  So far, Smith looks like the first Canadian who might be able to follow in John Part’s footsteps – though it is still a very far way to get there.

Column #CM96 The Inaugural BDO World Championship Final

Monday, December 21, 2020
Column CM96
The Inaugural BDO World Championship Final

The final is not always the best match of a tournament – but there have been some World Championship finals which must rank among the best matches in the history of darts. Among them, the inaugural BDO World Championship (which took place in 1978) had a noteworthy final, and a couple of other matches, which I’d submit are among the best ever –  and this is not only because they occurred at the first World Championship tournament.

This first World Championship of the BDO didn’t take place in the cultivated atmosphere of the Lakeside Country Club in Frimley Green but rather in the Heart of the Midlands Club in Nottingham. It was not played, as in later years, in January but rather from February 6-10.  It was organised by the BDO which had been founded five years before and it was televised on BBC.  Sid Waddell was the commentator, as in all BDO World Championships until the split in darts 1993.

At the time, the prize money of £3,000 for the winner was quite decent. The runner-up got £1,700 and even the players who didn’t survive the first round got £250 for participating.  This first World Championship had a leg format, not sets, and the format of the final was best of 21 legs.

The sponsor was Imperial Tobacco and as the company produced a brand of cigarettes named Embassy, the World Championship was known as the Embassy.  Imperial Tobacco sponsored the Snooker World Championship as well.  For the Darts World Championship Imperial Tobacco was for 25 years the main sponsor until the English Government forbid tobacco companies to sponsor sport events.

The tournament was not just called the World Championship – international qualifiers really played in it. There were 16 participants in the event.  The Englishmen – Eric Bristow, Alan Glazier, Tony Brown and John Lowe – were seeded 1-4.  Americans Conrad Daniels and Nicky Virachkul were seeds 5 and 6.  Canadian Hilliyard Rossiter was seeded seventh.   Seeded 8 and 9 were the two Welsh players, Alan Evans and Leighton Rees, while the Australians Barry Atkinsons and Tim Brown were the number 10 and 11 seeds. Seeds 12 and 13 were Scotsmen Rab Smith and Bobby Semple.  Seeds 14 and 15 were Swedes Stefan Lord and Kenth Ohlsson and the 16 seed was Irishman Patrick Clifford.  One can well say that everybody of distinction in the world of darts at that time took part in this first BDO World Championship.

In the first World Championship there was a big first round upset – number 1 seed Eric Bristow was eliminated by American Conrad Daniels – and I can imagine Daniels for many years chuckled at that result.

A player who by his own admission felt comfortable in the tournament from the start was Welshman Leighton Rees – at that time a really big gun in British darts.  Rees defeated Australian Barry Atkinson first round.  He won 6-0 and threw a 15-darter, a 19-darter, an 18-darter, another 15-darter, a 12-darter and a 17-darter – and the 12-darter could have been an 10- or even a 9-darter had Rees not just scratched the wire of the triple 20 with some of his darts.

In the quarterfinals Rees met his Welsh countryman and great friend Alan Evans.  As Rees described it was probably the best match ever between the two.  There were 42 scores over 100, six 180s and the very first 10-darter (137, 180, 180, 4) on TV.  In addition, Evans threw a 160-finish and Rees a 161-finish.

Rees won the match 6-3 but admitted Evans could have won the match too.  He felt he had never before seen Evans play so well and lose nevertheless.  Rees was especially happy about his 10-darter and that he hit the double two.  It looks as that was not his favourite double!

Of course the averages of the match are known as well.  Rees had an average of 97.50; Evans averaged 94.86.  Even by today’s standards it was a really good match and far better than the other quarterfinals of the tournament.  In fact, those two averages were by far the highest of the tournament.

In the semi finals Rees competed against American Nicky Virachkul and Virachkul stormed into a 3-0 lead.  Rees wrote that he was glad about the long format of best of 15 legs as this gave him a chance to get back into the match when he was behind.  And to be sure – Rees won the following five legs.  But Virachkul didn’t give in and levelled at 6.  And 7.  Rees dug deep in the deciding leg.  He threw a 180, followed by a 123 and won it with a 13-darter.  Only then did he turn around and realize the reward for the win was an encounter with John Lowe in the final.

The interest of the media was huge and at home in Wales all hell had broken lose.  As Rees wrote, he was not so much interested in the prize money as he was determined to win for Wales.

The format of the final was best of 21 legs, the longest match in which Rees ever had played but he was not worried at all as by now he believed this tournament was his tournament.  And he was right!

At the start, the final was a head-to-head race but when Lowe was 4-3 ahead, Rees won six legs in a row and and marched to a 9-4 lead.  So, he needed only two more legs to win the title…

Lowe threw a 15-darter and Rees answered with a 15-darter.  Only one leg more was needed for the title but Rees couldn’t finish his 66 points in the next leg and Lowe snatched it.

In the following leg Lowe stood on 141 points while Rees still had 81.  Lowe got down to 50 and Rees threw 31 points.  Lowe couldn’t finish off his points with his next throw while Rees hit first the single 20 and then tops and won the inaugural World Championship title of the BDO.  It was a really big win for the Welshman but for him the greatest moment was the reception he got when he returned to Wales.

Not to be forgotten was a match for the third place which American Nicky Virachkul won against Stefan Lord.

After his World Championship win Rees didn’t win many more tournaments but qualified every year until 1990.  The last event he played was in 1994, the Welsh Open.  John Lowe won in 1979, 1987 and 1993 and after the split in darts, twice (in 1995 and 1996) reached the semi-finals of the PDC World Championship.  In 2005, he qualified for the last time for the PDC World Championship.

For a long time, Leighton Rees remained the only Welsh World Champion – until 1995 when Richie Burnett won the title.  In 2008, Mark Webster was the next Welsh World Champion.

Besides the first BDO World Champion probably that last BDO World Champion was a Welshman too – Wayne Warren won the title 2020.

To date there has been no Welsh winner of the PDC World Championship.

In 2021 – with Nick Kenny, Jamie Lewis, Gerwyn Price and Jonny Clayton – four Welsh players will stand on the stage at Alexandra Palace.  And I can well imagine that Gerwyn Price will one day be the first Welsh PDC World Champion.

No video of the of the complete inaugural BDO World Championship final exists but you can watch the last leg here: