Author Archives: Charis Mutschler

Column #CM128 An interview with “Captain America” – Jim Widmayer

Wednesday, November 29, 2023
Column CM128
The Grand Slam’s about to begin!

Jim, you are some kind of old hand in the US sport of darts – what has kept you interested in the sport for such a long time?

Yes, been playing a long time. What keeps me playing is the competition, camraderie and the new experiences darts access me to.

You started to play darts around 1989 – how did you get into the sport of darts?

1989! WOW, that was a long time ago. I got into darts when I first started going to bars. It just started out as a way to win free drinks and a few more dollars in my pocket. People at the bar started to notice how good I was and put me on their dart team. It didnt take long until I was best in the league. Won my first big tournament in the U.S. 3 years later.

You were born in New York which was and probably still is a stronghold of the sport. Now-a-days you live in Florida – is darts popular there as well?

I would say darts is popular in Florida. There are a lot of leagues and we have a state championship. We have small tournaments once a month throughout the state and a lot of Luck of the Draws. Darts in Florida is both steel and soft tip.

And would you say the sport today is more recognized and more widespread in America then it was in the 1990?

Today, darts is more widespread throught the U.S. only because of the soft tip game. It’s popular because it’s on tv more and also people can follow everything on DartConnect. But the numbers for participation in steel tournaments are down and the number of tournaments itself are down from the 90s. I stopped playing darts from 1998-2006 and a lot of big tournaments in the U.S. disappeared.

Germany – where I live – is a small country and the PDC has made a big impact here over the years. Would you say one can feel some progress due to the PDC in North America as well?

Well, the PDC started with the help of us Americans in the early 1990s, and I feel they kinda abandoned us. We were their support, they had ranked tournaments here and I think they forget that. Over the years, they came for a couple years and then go away, so I’m skeptical on what they are looking for here. So, to answer your question, there really hasn’t been any progress here with the PDC.

You were one of the US players invited to play in the inaugural PDC World Matchplay, you played some Pro Tour events, you took part in the UK Qualifying School 2023 but all in all you stayed until today a BDO/WDF player. Did the PDC never tempt you or is it more a financial/distance/cirumstance decision?

It’s tough for an American to make it overseas unless he has no responsiblities or – not to be an ass -but doesn’t know where his priorities are. I wouldn’t trade my job and my family for darts and the amount of time away and money needed to travel and play the tour isn’t feasible for an American with a job and family.

You rarely play CDC events either – for the same reasons?

I just play the event thats associated with the World Series of Darts qualifiers. I have my reasons I don’t play CDC events. CDC doesnt care about their players and doesn’t know what to do to gain more support, it’s just their way and that’s it. They just came out with a new set of rules and for a tour where they don’t get full capacity of participation, the rules are pretty ridiculous.

This year you will stand on the Lakeside stage for the fourth time – are you looking forward to it?

I always look forward to that stage! There’s something about the atmosphere there. That’s not just me saying it, you hear it from everyone who takes that stage. Just hope this is the year I can overcome it. This is my 4th appearrance at the World Championship – 2014, 2015, 2019 previously, unless I’m missing one.

Do you like to play on stage? And do you feel nervous on stage?

Yes, love to play on stage. It’s better for me when I do bring my A game – lol

You will play against Hungarian Patrik Kovacs – have you ever play against him before?

Never played him before, at least to my knowledge. I’ve played so many times internationally at World Cups, the Masters and other tournaments but don’t remember playing him.

Does it, after all the years you have competed, still matter against whom you play and do you bother to inform yourself about your opponents?

No, it doesn’t bother me who I play because eventually will have to play someone somewhere down the line. If I’m aware who I play beforehand, I might research who they are and what they have done, if I don’t know already, just to prepare myself.

How would you say you developed as a player over the years and do you feel you still can improve? Or would you say you were a stronger player when you were younger?

I’m pretty much the same player that I have always been. Sometimes moments of greatness, sometimes not so good moments – lol. There is always room for improvement for everyone.

Do you still practice?

Yes, I still practice, but not as much as I should. I only practice when motivated.

And when you practice – what do you do and for how long?

When I do practice, I’m on the board for 3 hours during the day and sometimes back for a couple more at night playing an online tournament or league.

Do you play electronic darts as well?

Not really, I’m in Florida and there is a lot of electronic darts. I’m just not interested in it. I’ll get out to a draw on a weekend every once in a while but with it being double elimination in a smokey bar that takes all night, thats not for me.

Many players in Europe now-a-days work with mental coaches- is it something you are interested in?

No, not interested in it. I was contacted a few years back by someone who works with players from England, just didnt seem it was for me.

You not only will take part for the fourth time in the World Championship but you took part an amazing twelfth time in the World Masters last year which shows you have been very successfull in national tournaments in your career. Are the big tournaments something you still highly anticipate – the highlights you can’t wait for?

I love playing in the big tournaments, it brings out the better competition and my game. I always look forward to playing international competitions.

What is you favorite tournament?

My favorite has to be any tournament I win! Only joking! My favorite is the World Cup, no better feeling then representing your country.

Your nickname is “Captain America” – absolutely justified as you’ve been for many years captain of the US National Team. Is it for you something special to play for your home country?

Yes, to me it’s an honor representing my country and the American Darts Organization members. I’m disappointed every time I don’t make the World Cup Team, just missed out for the 2023 team, I was next to go if someone turned it down.

And would you rate the two WDF Cup wins in 2008 and 2014 as your biggest successes or what for you were the best and most satisfying wins in you career?

2008 & 2014? Those may have been America’s Cup. World Cups are held on odd numbered years. I don’t have any World Cup wins. Winning the Las Vegas Open is my biggest win and my most satisfying win is winning the Welsh Open Pairs with Jeff Smith.

It was not easy for the WDF to take over when the BDO collapsed and the start was bumpy – did you as a player feel it and is it running smoother by now?

It’s running smoother now, they have some good guys in charge and they will take it where it should be. Things don’t happen over night, like everyone thinks they do, it will take a little time but I’m confident that they will get the job done.

Is there something you still would love to achieve in darts?

Yes, to win Lakeside!  Isn’t every dart players goal is to win the World Championship?!

As you’ve seen to be sure a lot from players around the world do you feel the UK/European supremacy will end some day?

They will always be dominant in darts because their competion and level of play that keeps them where they need to be is close to them. In the U.S. a 4 hour drive doesn’t get us out of most states, where as in UK and Europe it gets you to another country. But now with all the online darts, it gets us closer.

I am always astonished that the sport of darts in North America seems to be dominated by the same players for years and in the regard of the size of the country and the number of inhabitants only a small number of new names and even less young players come up. Is it a problem to get children or youth interested in the sport?

Yes, you have the guys like myself and Larry Butler who don’t go away. There is no promotion for youth darts in the U.S. and that hurts us with bringing new energy into the sport of darts and progression.

Since this year you are the president of the ADO – the American Darts Organisation. As in other countries the national organisation is often critisized – what do you feel are the biggest problems you’ll have to overcome?

The past problems of the organization is the biggest problem. There is a lot of things I will be getting done to get rid of the past and move the ADO forward. It won’t be easy because I don’t have all the board members with me, some are hung up on what they did in the past that didn’t progress anything. But yeah, looking to getting rid of past problems for the ADO.

Probably as a player you yourself sometimes were not happy with the ADO – do you think that will be helpful for this job?

Of course, I wasnt happy with the ADO, that’s why I ran for President. I been playing the ADO system since I pretty much started playing darts, over 30 years. I have seen the various changes and what has worked and what didn’t work and where they went wrong, so I have an idea to what needs to be done.

Have you some kind of vision where you want to direct the sport?

Yes, we need to grow the sport, starting with the youth. We need to build our own youth ranking system amd get more tournaments involved in running youth events. And we also need to make more opportunities for our players to play internationally and make the World Championship.

What I was always told from American (and Canadian) friends is that the sport of darts more or less is non-existent in any kind of media – not even when players celebrate international successes.

There is absolutely no media for darts in North America. We watch darts on streaming devices and here what’s going on through Facebook and Twitter.

The ADO was always quite strongly linked to the BDO and it sometimes looked to me both were even linked in their problems. Is the link to the WDF now as strong (after all the vice president of the WDF is Buddy Bartoletta, an American who once has been ADO president) and can that might be helpful in reforming the ADO?

Yes, they were always linked, Della Fleetwood and now Buddy Bartoletta. I talk with Buddy if I need direction, I’ve known Buddy for years, since I started playing darts and before he was ADO President. He will be very helpful for me to get the ADO where i want it to be.

Will you still find the time to take part in tournaments yourself in future?

I’m retired, so I have all the time to take part in tournaments. Just don’t interupt my time to go fishing!


Column #CM127 The Grand Slam’s about to begin!

Thursday, November 9, 2023
Column CM127
The Grand Slam’s about to begin!

It is November.  The leaves have started to fall, and the weather is strange.  Rain, wind, sunshine – and temperatures that don’t seem to be able to decide between summer and winter.

Dart players and fans from all over the world will head to Wolverhampton but you can experience the spectacle the PDC has prepared for us on you own sofa (as well as the Grand Slam which will streamed and on television).

The most asked question probably will be whether Peter Wright or Stowe Buntz will impress most with their outfit.

Well, perhaps for some that might not be the most urgent question – those people – me included – only wonder who will be the winner.

When I had a look at the list of participants, I decided it is a question I just can’t answer.  I feel I am already unable to cope with the question who will survive the group phase – so far, I only think I can be sure that it could be Martijn Kleermaker and Nathan Girvan who will not reach the knock-out stage.

But what’s one to make of Group C with Luke Humphries, Dirk van Duijvenbode, Gary Anderson and Steve Lennon?  van Duijvenbode had a shoulder injury and hasn’t played well recently.  Has it healed?  And what about Steve Lennon who has suddenly started to play really strong over the last few weeks?  Anderson to be sure is a player who is never predictable though the group phase round robin format will make it easier for him to get into the right mood.

Or what about Group B with Jonny Clayton, Chris Dobey, Josh Rock and Berry van Peer?  Clayton has not been at his best recently – but should the real Clayton turn up this one will be a really evenly matched group.  One can’t even argue that one of the players has never stood on stage at the Grand Slam.  Berry van Peer probably will not have the best memories though – as the last time he played in Wolverhampton he was in the clutches of dartitis (especially his match against Gary Anderson during that past Grand Slam will still give him the creeps).

Another open question of course is how the two female players will fare.  It could turn out Beau Greaves – who is a debutant in Wolverhampton – will have some problems but on the other side playing against a woman still seems to affect the men.  So, who’ll gain the upper hand in Group F?  And will German debutant Ricardo Pietreczko be again able to keep his nerve – something he managed so far really admirably.  The other players in this group are Nathan Aspinall and Damon Heta – both a little bit shaky in their recent performances.  But at least it is possible we’ll see another special Heta walk-on.

The “playing a woman effect” might not affect Michael van Gerwen or Rob Cross in Group C – but you never know.  van Gerwen is no longer the unbeatable player he was a few years ago while Rob Cross is more of a stoic player, but he sometimes takes too long to get into a match and those group matches have a short format.  And Fallon Sherrock has already played on this stage.  She started to get stronger again recently and part of her good performances are always her doubles (while hitting the doubles sometimes can be van Gerwen’s weak spot).

All the other groups are not much better – Haruki Muramatsu and Stowe Buntz are the two dark horses.  They are both debutants in the event.  No one outside North America has ever seen Buntz play live on stage.  He won the CDC Continental Cup recently so he will be in good form.  But what does that really mean when he has to play against Peter Wright, Dave Chisnall and Stephen Bunting who are all strong scorers?   Muramatsu won the Asian Championship – he will be in good form as well.  But how much will that be worth against Danny Noppert, Andrew Gilding and Brendan Dolan?

Gian van Veen is a debutant as well.  He’s sometimes outstanding though not always consistent yet but he’s given many of the established PDC players the shivers – among them Ryan Searle who is also part of group D.  Nathan Rafferty is another upcoming player in the group which is headed by Gerwyn Price.  Rafferty impressed in the Grand Slam two years ago and reached the knockout phase which means he can play darts.  But so far, he has not kept up this Grand Slam performance.

This leaves the group with the reigning champion Michael Smith – Group A.  While Nathan Girvan will probably have no chance to survive the group stage the other three players – Smith, James Wade and Krzysztof Ratajski – all have had their problems this year.  All three were often far enough away from their A game and while Wade and Ratajski seem to slowly getting their games back Smith remains a surprise bag.  And I would really be surprised – pleasantly surprised – should he defend his Grand Slam title.

So, take your guess…

The answer to who’ll impress most with their outfit probably will be answered on the first day of the tournament as Peter Wright will play against Stowe Buntz in his first match.

It will take much more time to answer the question of who’ll win the tournament – so you best have enough beer and chips or hot chocolate and popcorn at home.  Then make yourself comfortable, switch your television or the stream and follow the action.

I am sure it will be more thrilling and entertaining then Castle or Navy CIS and there could even be some upsets.

Column #CM126 Thirty Years of World Matchplay – the Players from Great Britain

Sunday, July 22, 2023
Column CM126
Thirty Years of World Matchplay – the Players from Great Britain

When one looks at the World Matchplay winner’s list the name Phil Taylor immediately catches the eye – it appears so often. Taylor won the event sixteen times, as often as he won the World Championship. It is unlikely that there will ever be another player who is so dominant for so many years. 

In the first year of the World Matchplay, Taylor was an unseeded player and lost in the second round to Bob Anderson. In both his matches he averaged under 100. He won the second World Matchplay – against Dennis Priestley with a 90.72 average in the final and had one average of 100.38 throughout the event. The following year it was Peter Evison who won the tournament. He eliminated Taylor in the second round. Evison played a good final and Priestley once again was left with nothing.

By 1997 Taylor had improved. In his first match he averaged of 113.43 and in the final – which he won against Alan Warriner – he played an average of 106.36. Nevertheless he couldn’t defend his title in the following year and in 1998 Rod Harrington won the title against Ronnie Baxter who defeated Taylor in the semi-finals. The final was not a bad one – both players averaged close to 100.

Harrington managed to defend the title in 1999.  In the final he met Peter Manley in the who had defeated Taylor in the semis. It was far from a highlevel final but in some way reflected the level of most players of the time – both players had an average of just below 90.

In the following year, we saw a repeat of the 1997 final – Taylor again faced Alan Wartriner. Taylor averaged 100.32 (en route to the final he won matches with averahes of 101 and 102.  In this year there were the first 170 finishes as well – one from Alex Roy and one from American Steve Brown.

In 2002, Taylor improved even more – in addition to the final where he defeated Ritchie Burnett, averaging 100.32 to 97.14, Taylor averaged over 100 in three earlier matches. All in all, Taylor was unquestionably better than all other participants – he was the only one who managed to play consistently to averages of around 100.

The same thing happened in 2002 when Taylor defeated John Part in the final – Taylor impressed with averages of 100.86, 104.01, 112.17, 95.91 and 98.76. In this year, the first nine-darter in the history of the event was thrown – of course, by Taylor.  Keith Deller delighted the fans with an 170 finish.

The next two years Taylor won again – once against Wayne Mardle and once against Mark Dudbridge.

In 2005, Taylor lost in the quarterfinals to John Part who reached the final only to lose to Colin Lloyd.  Lloyd was in this year the strongest player. His average in the final was 102.57 and in one of his matches he threw a 170 finish as well.

In 2006, Taylor was defeated James Wade in the final.  Taylor again averaged over 100 while Wade was way back at 90.28. Besides Taylor, Andy Hamilton played the event at an over 100 average (but Hamilton planyed only a few years at that level).

Once again, in 2007 Taylor couldn’t defend his title, losing to Terry Jenkins in the semi-finals. Jenkins met James Wade in the final and this time Wade prevailed. The number of players who were able to throw averages over 100 was increasing.  In 2007, Taylor was joined by Wade, Adrian Lewis and Raymond van Barneveld.

In 2008, Wade reached the final the third time but couldn’t defend his title against Phil Taylor who had averages of 103.35, 109.70, 96.78, 105.59 and 109.46. Wade averaged over 100 in the semi-finals and the final. The only other over 100 average that year came from Mark Walsh in his first round match.

Taylor was similarly strong in 2009. He defended his title against Terry Jenkins and only averaged below 100 (with 97.19) once, in his first round match.  Only two players besides Taylor averaged more than 100 (and in only one match) – Mervyn King in the quarterfinals and Kevin Painter in first round.

In 2010, Taylor had improved even more.  He defended his title in the final against Raymond van Barneveld – it was a high-class final in which both players had averages of over 100.  Taylor’s averaged 105.16 to van Barneveld’s 100.11.  On his way into the final, in not a single match did Taylor average below 100.  He scored 114.99, 104.60, 103.31 and 103.46 – a performance which would be hard to exceed even now-a-days.  Raymond van Barneveld threw the second World Matchplay nine-darter.

In 2011, Taylor continued to compete on a high level – he averaged above 100 in all of his matches.  He defended his title in the final against James Wade again.  And we saw a third nine-darter – this time from John Part.

In 2012, we saw another Taylor vs. Wade final followed with the same results as the previous year – but Taylor was not on the same level.  This was the first year that Michael van Gerwen won two of his matches with averages of over 100.  While Taylor shone with two 170 finishes, Michael van Gerwen impressed with a nine-darter.  And Taylor was not the only one with a 170 finish – both Dave Chisnall and Joe Cullen threw one as well.  And besides Michael van Gerwen, Wes Newton produced a nine-darter too.

In 2013, Taylor defended his title against Adrian Lewis – and with Lewis and van Gerwen two more players capable of consistently producing 100-plus were now in the mix. In the final Taylor needed an 111.23 average to prevail.

In 2014, Michael van Gerwen reached the World Matchplay final for the first time, but Taylor was still able to deny him the win. We now also had Michael Smith and Gary Anderson in the tournament as well, both who were capable of regularly throwing averages of more than 100. Taylor threw his second World Matchplay nine-darter this year but one could already sense that his dominance was was waning.

In 2015, Taylor lost in the semi-finals to James Wade who was defeated in the final by Michael van Gerwen.  One year later Taylor and van Gerwen met for a second time in the final. Both had played a good tournament and for both a 98.72 average had been so far the lowest. van Gerwen managed to defend the title and many proclaimed the end of an era.

But Taylor had other plans – though he started to talk about his age, the strains of all the travelling, the long tournaments and about retirement.  He didn’t intend to end his career with defeat…

…and was back in Blackpool in 2017. In the quarterfinals he eliminated Michael van Gerwen. In the semifianls he defeated Adrian Lewis and in the final he was just too much for Scotsman Peter Wright, the first Scotsman to ever reach the final of the tournament.

And to be sure, Taylor had the last laugh once again and won his 16th World Matchplay title.

Besides Taylor, James Wade was until 2015 the most successfull English player in the tournament. Although he only won it once he reached five more finals. After 2015, Wade never lived up to his earlier success.

Other winners from England included Rod Harrington in 1998 and 1999, Colin Lloyd in 2005 and Rob Cross in 2019. Cross has taken part in every World Matchplay since 2017 but his win in 2017 is, so far, his only success. In all other years he advanced no further than the second round.

Colin Lloyd’s World Matchplay experience was quite similar.  Lloyd took part in the event for the first time in 2001.  Besides his win he only once reached the semi-finals (in 2002) – though he took part in the tournament until 2011.

Rod Harrington was among the participants at the first World Matchplay – where he reached the semi-finals.  Two years later, he stood in the quarterfinals before he left Blackpool, two years in row, as the champion.  In 2000, he once again reached the quarterfinal before he subsequently lost twice in the first round.  These were his last World Matchplay appearances. 

In 2018 – the first year following Phil Taylor’s retirement – Gary Anderson became the first Scotsman to win the title. With the exception of the years 2006, 2007 and 2009 in each World Matchplay at least one Scotsman was among the participants. In the first year of the tournament (1994), two Scotsmen (Jamie Harvey and Jocky Wilson) stood at the oche and both reached the quarterfinals – and both returned the following year.  After that, it was only Harvey for many years – the last time he took part was in 2005. Only once in those years did another Scotsman join him – in 1997 Drew O’Neill qualified as well. Havey lost most of the times in the first or second round but in 2004 he stood in the quarterfinals.

Since 2009, Gary Anderson and Peter Wright have represented Scotland. They were joined over the years by Robert Thornton and later by John Henderson. Both Anderson (2018) and Wright (2021) won the tournament once. Anderson also reached the semi-finals in 2014 and 2016 and the final in 2020.  Besides reaching the final in 2017 (which he lost to Taylor) Wright played into the semi-finals in 2015 and 2018.

So far, we haven’t seen a Welsh winner in the World Matchplay but since the first event in almost every year one or more Welshmen have been among the participants.  Most successful so far have been Richie Burnett and Gerwyn Price who both once reached the final.

Burnett was in 1997 the first Welshman to qualify for the tournament (together with Anthony Ridler) and in his first year reached the semi-finals.  In 2000, he reached his second semi-final and lost to Phil Taylor.  In 2001, he reached the final and again lost to Taylor.  In 2004, he took part again and was eliminated first round.

In 2005, it was Kelvin Painter who qualified for Wales, but he lost first round.  Painter was followed Barrie Bates who couldn’t win a match either.  In 2010, Mark Webster qualified for the first time and reached the quarterfinals one year later.  In 2012 and 2014 Richie Burnett returned.  In 2015, besides the returning Webster, Gerwyn Price qualified for the first time and reached the quarterfinals.  Since then, Price has regularly been in Blackpool – and he was joined in 2018 by Jonny Clayton.  While Price lost in the 2020 final to Michael van Gerwen, Clayton so far has not been successful.

In the first World Matchplay in 1994, Tom Kirby was a participant from the Republic of Ireland – and he remained until 1996. To date, the only other player from the Republic of Ireland has been Steve Lennon who only qualified once in 2018.

There have been only two players from Northern Ireland in the tournament (util 2022) as well – Brendan Dolan and Daryl Gurney. Dolan qualified every year from 2012 to 2016 but never got further than the second round. He returned in 2020 – with similar results. Gurney qualified 2019 for the first time and has returned every year – in 2016 and this year he reached the quarterfinals.  Josh Rock, an up and coming player from Northern Ireland,  qualified in 2023 as well – but he lost first round.

One still can’t predict who will win World Matchplay 2023 – this year’s tournament has been full of upsets and surprises.  But what one can say for certain is that the winner will hail from Great Britain – as only three Englishman and one Welsh player have reached the semi-finals.

Column #CM125 Thirty Years of World Matchplay – the Continental Europeans

Wednesday, July 19, 2023
Column CM125
Thirty Years of World Matchplay – the Continental Europeans

Following the first part of the World Matchplay history which dealt with the participants from North America, today’s installment looks at the Continental European players and, well, the players from Australia.

Even before Roland Scholten a Dutch player appeared among the World Matchplay participants – this was the far from well-known Belgian, Jef Scheyltjens, who made a one-time guest appearance in 1995. So, he was the first continental European in the tournament. 

Roland Scholten competed from 2000 to 2008 and until 2007 the only Dutch player participating – something one can’t imagine now-a-days in such an important tournament.  However, the World Matchplay was not exactly Scholten’s tournament.  Though he was seeded throughout he only once reached the semi-finals (2006) and once a quarterfinal (2007).

In 2007, both Raymond van Barneveld and Michael van Gerwen joined him. This time, van Barneveld really turned up and reached the quarterfinals whil van Gerwen lost second round.

2008 was the first year in which Vincent van der Voort took part.  While van Barneveld and van Gerwen reached the same placings again, van der Voort was eliminated first round.

Though Scholten didn’t qualify in 2009 we saw five Dutch participants among the participants as van Barneveld, van Gerwen and van der Voort were joined by Jelle Klaasen and Co Stompe. While van Barneveld again stood in the quarterfinals (he defeated van Gerwen first round) Stompe and Klaasen also both lost first round.  van der Voort reached the quarterfinals as well.

From hereon the number of Dutch participants in the event sways between two and five.

In 2010 and 2011 Michael van Gerwen failed to qualify.  Instead Simon Whitlock and Paul Nicholson were the first Australians – both qualified in 2010.  In 2011, besides van Gerwen, Klaasen and Stompe missed out too.  Stompe never returned while Klaasen was back in 2015 and 2017 but lost again first round. His best placing was the quarterfinals 2010.

van Gerwen returned in 2012 and since then qualified every year. In 2012, he reached the quarterfinals and in 2013 for the first time the semi-finals.  In 2014, he reached the final where he lost to Phil Taylor, who topped van Gerwen’s 101.49 average with a 107.19 average.  

In 2015, van Gerwen again stood in the final and this time he won it against James Wade, who didn’t play his best game.  In 2016, the Dutchman defended his title and got his revenge as he defeated an, in all parts of the match,  inferior Phil Taylor.

One year later van Gerwen lost in the quarterfinals to Taylor, who ended his career in this year after being crowned with his 16th World Matchplay title.

It didn’t go to plan for van Gerwen in the following years either.  In 2018, he lost first round against his fellow countryman Jeffrey der Zwaan.  In 2019, he lost second round to Glen Durrant.  In 2020, he was eliminated in the second round by Simon Whitlock and 2021 he lost in the semi-finals to Peter Wright.

Finally, in 2022 van Gerwen managed his third win – he defeated Gerwyn Price in the final.  He was the favourite to win this year again – but suffered a shock defeat by Brendan Dolan in the first round.

Raymond van Barneveld has never won the title but often reached the quarterfinals before he in 2000 for the only time reached the final where he lost to – Phil Taylor.  It didn’t get better the following years and from 2019-2022 he did not even manage to qualify for the event – he either didn’t play well enough or had taken a break from darts.

But van Barneveld surprised everybody with a comeback and qualified by the Pro Tour Order of Merit for the World Matchplay 2023.  He is playing quite well but was not among the favourites and in fact lost first round to Ryan Searle.

Vincent van der Voort appeared several times but in other years failed to qualify. He qualified for the last time in 2020 and reached the quarterfinals as he had done in 2009 – so far his best results.

Other Dutch players like Benito van de Pas, Jeffrey de Zwaan and Jermaine Waittimena qualified one or two times but with the exception of de Zwaan, who stood in the semifinals 2018, none survived the first rounds.

In 2019, Danny Noppert for the first time qualified and in 2021 Dirk van Duijvenbode made his debut – and are both players who could go far in this year’s tournament.  In 2022, they met in the quarterfinals.  Noppert prevailed but lost to Gerwyn Price in the semi-finals.  Again, both are here in 2023 – and at least survived the first round.

Australian Kyle Anderson appeared in 2015 as did Paul Nicholason and they continued to participate until 2018. Simon  Whitlock appeared in 2019 and 2020 – when he took part for the last time – the only Australian at the World Matchplay.  Damon Heta followed Whitlock in 2021. 

In 2010 and 2014, Whitlock reached the semi-finals where he lost once to Phil Taylor and once to Michael van Gerwen. In addition, he reached the quaterfinals fiur times – not a bad record. The other Australians so far were less successfull.

From 2012, Belgian Kim Huybrechts was a regular at World Matchplay until 2018, but he only survied the first round once.  Much more sucessfull was his fellow countryman Dimitri van den Bergh who made his debut in 2020 and won the event. One year later he stood in the final but lost to Peter Wright.

In 2022, Kim Huybrechts returned – and again lost first round while van den Bergh reached the semi-finals.

This year, for the first time, three Belgians are in the World Matchplay field – Dimitri van den Bergh, Kim Huybrechts and Mike de Decker (making his debut).  For Huybrechts and de Decker the tournament ended after the first round.

In 2013, Austrian Mensur Suljovic qualified as the first German speaking player for the event and he returned every year until 2020.  His biggest success came 2018 when he lost a close final 19-21 to Gary Anderson.  Besides Suljovic, Rowby-John Rodriguez has been the only other player from Austria in the World Matchplay – he qualified in 2022 but lost second round to Dimitri van den Bergh.

In 2018, Max Hopp stood at the oche of the Empress Ballroom as the first ever German player in the tournament.  He lost first round to Ian White.  In 2019, he returned and reached the second round.  In 2020, Gabriel Clemens followed Hopp as the second German player to compete (this year is Clemens’ fourth appearance in the tournament).  In 2022 Martin Schindler joined Clemens.  This year, both Clemens and Schindler qualified again this year but each lost first round.

Only one appearance has a Spaniard appeared in the tournament – Cristo Reyes in 2017 who was eliminated second round by a strong playing Peter Wright.  As well, there has been only one appearance by a South African (Devon Petersen – 2021) and a Latvian (Madars Razma – 2022).  Both didn’t survive the first round.

Since 2017, Poland’s Krzysztof Ratajski has been among the participants and he is to date the only Polish player who has qualified.  So far, he has once reached the semi-finals and twice the quarterfinals.

Portugal’s Jose de Sousa has been a regular since 2020 – the first and so far only Portuguese participant.  In 2022, he reached the quarterfinals.

Though the tournament has become more and more international over the years besides America’s Larry Butler only two other players not from the UK have won it – Dutchman Michael van Gerwen, who has won three times so far, and Dimitri van den Bergh who has won once.

One of the reasons no doubt was Phil Taylor who dominated the tournament for many years and won it 16 times.  Besides, there never existed qualifiers in other countries (as for the PDC World Championship).

So, all players have to qualify by the PDC Order of Merit and the Pro Tour Order of Merit – and in both, for many years, players from Great Britain dominated.  It takes some time to change this and this year again with the exception of Michael van Gerwen the top favourites are all from Great Britain.

Nevertheless, what Phil Taylor achieved was outstanding.  Hence, the next installment in this history of the World Matchplay history will focus on Taylor and the other tournament winners from Great Britain.


Column #CM124 Thirty Years of World Matchplay – the North Americans

Friday, July 14, 2023
Column CM124
Thirty Years of World Matchplay – the North Americans

Second only to the PDC World Championship, the PDC World Matchplay is the PDC tournament with the longest history.  This year, it will take place for the 30th time.  But the World Matchplay differs from other PDC events, not only because it has been running for such a long time but also – in contrast to all other tournaments – neither the venue, date, format or the number of participants has changed a lot over the years.  There is one exception: during the Corona years the tournament was played twice behind closed doors in the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes. 

The format has been modified a little bit.  Prior to 2013 the winners in all rounds had to win with two legs clear (so, some of the matches reached an epic length).  Now after the “normal” number of legs the players have only up to five legs in overtime to get those two legs.  Should it not happen all is decided in a sudden death leg.

In 2022, a Women’s World Matchplay was added – in which eight women who qualify by the women’s series Order of Merit take part.

And so, since 1994 the darts world in July has looked to Blackpool were in the Empress Ballroom of the Winter Gardens 32 players – often sweating – stand on the stage as in the historic building no air conditioning system exists or ever will.

Nevertheless, many players appear in this event to be more relaxed and in almost a holiday mood.

Perhaps it’s due to Blackpool being for many years one of the most popular seaside resorts in England.  Those times are long over though and today Blackpool is one of the poorest towns in England.  In some years it’s even been inadvisable to plunge into the sea due to pollution.

But Blackpool remains a very British seaside resort with pier (actually, three piers), a lot of mostly harmless amusement arcades, some touristic highlights and several entertainment facilities of which the World Matchplay is an important part.

When one looks at the list of participants in the inaugural year of 1994 it stands out that, as in following years – an unusual big number of players from North America competed.  They had been invited by the PDC.  At that time, there were not as many strong European players around as the sport of darts was neither a far spread nor as popular as it is today.

But in North America the sport was booming, and fans were familiar with the top Americans and England from international competitions.

And so, in 1994, ten Americans, two Scotsmen, one player from Singapore, one Irishman and eighteen Englishman stood at the oche of the World Matchplay.  To be sure the English players were the favorites to win this first event as everyone of distinction turned up – among them Dennis Priestley, Eric Bristow, John Lowe, Bob Anderson, Keith Deller, Jocky Wilson and Phil Taylor to only name the best known.  

But it was not one of those Englishman who won the event but rather American Larry Butler who prevailed in the final 16-12 over Dennis Priestley.  In 1994, there existed a match for the third place as well which was won by Rod Harrintgon who later went on to win the tournament twice.

While Priestley withdrew from the sport a few years ago due to cancer and his age, Larry Butler still plays in tournaments.  Only two other participants from this first event are still active as well – Paul Lim and Jim Widmayer. 

Beginning in the following year, 1995, the number of North American participants in the event started to shrink. Butler was one of those who returned as did Steve Brown (the American), Gerald Verrier and Dave Kelly. And Canadian Gary Mawson made his debut.

This time Priestley and Butler met in the quarterfinals and Priestley won.  Priestley once again reached the final and this time lost to Phil Taylor.  Also, again among the participants was Paul Lim who this time played not for Singapore but for America.

Priestley reached the final once again in 1996 – and lost for the third time. This time he was defeated 14-16 by Peter Evison.

Until 2010 Priestley qualified every year for the World Matchplay but never again reached the final.  In 2010, he lost first round to Vincent van der Voort.

In 1997, many North Americans were again among the participants – Steve Brown, Sean Downs, Gerald Verrier, Paul Lim and Gary Mawson and Gerome Verdano made his debut.  For the first time John Part qualified but he lost in the preliminary round to Scotsman Drew O’Neill.  Although Larry Butler hadn’t qualified, he did attend as did a certain Raymond van Barneveld who at this time was still a BDO player.

In 1998, Steve Brown and John Part entered the tournament as seeds.  Brown lost second round to Bob Anderson.  Part lost first round against Chris Mason who eliminated Gerald Verrier in the second round.  As well in Blackpool were again Gary Mawson and Paul Lim – this time again for Singapore.

In 1999, North America was represented by Part, Mawson, Brown, Verrier, Canadian Scott Cummings and Dan Lauby, Sr.  Part again was seeded and again lost first round to Chris Mason who this time eliminated Steve Brown second round. Mawson reached the second round but lost to Dennis Priestley.

That was the last year in which the North Americans were the second biggest group of participants in the tournament. 

In 2000, only Mawson and Part qualified.  In 2001, Part was the only North American representative.  In 2002 and 2003 Steve Brown joined Part for the last time.

Until 2009, Part qualified for every World Matchplay and returned in 2011 and 2013.  In 2002 and 2005 he reached the final and in 2004 the semifinals.  In 2022, he threw one of the infrequent World Matchplay nine-darters.  Part and Butler are the two most successful North Americans to participant in the tournament.

Except for Part, it has been 20 years since any other North American player has managed to qualify for the event.

Column #CM123 UK Open – Third Day

Wednesday, March 16, 2023
Column CM123
UK Open – Third Day

After the quarterfinals all remaining participants were known and much of the suspense had somehow dissipated on finals day.  It seemed it would only be a question of against whom Michael van Gerwen would play in the final, which he would win anyhow.  But one hoped for interesting and thrilling matches.

For me, this hope was unfulfilled in the first quarterfinal between Andrew Gilding and Martin Schindler.  Perhaps the young German had run our of steam – at least he was far from maintining his earlier good performances.  His scoring was not as strong and he had lost his accuracy on the doubles as well.  To be sure Andrew Gilding is a tough opponent but one had expected a little bit more from Schindler.  So, he was demolished 4-10 and Gilding reached for the second time in his career the semi-finals of the UK Open.

Nathan Aspinall fared a little bit better in the second quarterfinal but he did not do enough to be much of a problem for Michael van Gerwen.  The Dutchman was far from flawless either, quite often throwing low scores and several times experiencing double trouble.

The third quarterfinal was a little bit more surprising.  Many had hoped for a Cross/van Gerwen final but Cross took too long to get going and then it was too late against young Czech Adam Gawlas.  To be sure the Gawlas win was an upset.

The last quarterfinal was not a good or thrilling match either.  Richie Burnett failed to perform magic once again.  Dimitri van den Bergh was just too strong, though he was far from outstanding as well.

And once again and for the last time a draw took place.  In the first semi-final Adam Gawlas would play against Andrew Gilding and after that Dimitri van den Bergh would face Michael van Gerwen.  It looked as though a fourth UK Open win for van Gerwen was inevitable – no player still in the tournament looked like a real danger for him (despite his inconsistent scoring and problems with the doubles).

At the break all fortified themselves and the players disappeared from the venue…

Then the event continued.  It felt a little bit like one could have handed van Gerwen the trophy without playing semi-finals and a final.

First, Adam Gawlas and Andrew Gilding came on stage – two players with a similar playing rhythms and both seemingly detached, with a poker faces.  But Gawlas was unable to present a threat for Gilding – he played his probably weakest match of the tournament.  He was not bad on his doubles but had few chances to throw on them.  Gilding won 11-6 and for the first time reached the final.

In the second semi-final it was van den Bergh who had no chance against van Gerwen and he was even worse on his doubles.  There were chances for the Belgian as van Gerwen was far from accurate on his doubles as well and again produced some very low scores.  But for some reason the Belgian was not able to take out his doubles.  Perhaps he was too much in awe, perhaps he was just tired by now or he had already more or less accepted the inevitable before the match even started.

And so, we had an unexpected final between Michael van Gerwen and Andrew Gilding.  And despite what we had already seen from Gilding during the tournament most were sure it would be a van Gerwen win – perhaps as all were convinced van Gerwen would be able to change up a gear should it be necessary.

So far he had not be really challenged – the most probably in the fourth round against Dave Chisnall – but his A-game just had not been necessary.  Perhaps he had lulled himself in a false sense of security or didn’t take Gilding seriously but the final didn’t go according to plan.

van Gerwen couldn’t get rid of Gilding who just played his own march never panicking, even when behind – it was impressive.  Gilding drew 9-9, then 10-10 – and suddenly the thrill was back.  van Gerwen didn’t play a weak deciding leg, but Gilding threw a 180 at a crucial moment and then even managed to set up a double tops finish, which brought a smile to his face.  And he hit tops while van Gerwen sat on 16.  As the sayings goes – a darts match is never until the last dart is thrown. 

So, after three days of darts the UK Open 2ß23 was history.  It was a tournament with a lot of upsets and highlights and with a surprise winner.

The final will sticks in my memory as will Richie Burnett’s progress into the quarterfinals, the first quarterfinal of a German players in this event, the performance of young Czech Adam Gawlas and the great matches of 16-year-old Luke Littler and Thomas Banks.

And the event showed that hard work pays – that’s at least to what Andrew Gilding credits his success.

Column #CM122 UK Open – Second Day

Wednesday, March 16, 2023
Column CM122
UK Open – Second Day

Has it happened to you?  Have you ever been unable, at first, to recognize a well-known darts player when you saw them in their street wear or in jump suit?  That is what happened to me when in my accommodation on the morning of the second day a no longer young, tall and slender man appeared in the breakfast room wearing a dark blue jumpsuit.  I was sure I did knew him… but only after some pondering did I realize it was Mario Vandenbogaerde whom I had watched on the day before in several matches.

I think a little bit of acting is involved in the stage matches and that the players sometimes “create“ a sort of stage personality.  Some are actually completely different from their stage character but the stage character is what you will remember (as you probably will not meet them personally).  Of course, counter examples also exist – James Wade and Gary Anderson come to mind – they very bad actors, their stage characters are very similar to their real personalities.

The second day of the UK Open was more relaxed as the matches were longer than in the first three rounds and it matches were only played at four boards, though still in three different venues.  I first went over to Studio 36 where in the first match Kim Huybrechts went to the dogs against Gary Anderson – he had no chance at all while Anderson played another convincing match.

The second match brought a big upset as William O’Connor eliminated reigning champion Danny Noppert from the tournament – but who in this tournament was a little bit under the radar and only got this single stage match.  On boards 3 and 4 Richie Burnett and Adam Gawlas celebrated wins.

On to the main stage, the first match ended with a big upset – Luke Humphries defeated World Champion Michael Smith.  The next upset followed soon – Jeffrey de Zwaan sensationally defeated Gerwyn Price.

Rob Cross ended Steve Beaton’s run on the second stage while Martin Schindler was in great form and won against Adrian Lewis on Board 3.

When I returned to the second stage the venue was jam-packed.  It was clear Nathan Aspinall was responsible – he is one of the crowd favourites here (along with Richie Burnett who is cheered as frenetically).  On Boards 3 and 4 Jose de Sousa and Luke Woodhouse were eliminated and almost unnoticed as most of the crowd had already moved on to watch Peter Wright on the main stage – and who had some problems against Callan Rydz.  I returned once more to the second stage where it was quiet and half full again where Dimitri van den Bergh sent Mervyn King packing – a close match in which the Belgian was more convincing then the solid playing King.

After that, Boards 3 and 4 were removed and on the main stage the draw for the sixth round took place and which would be played on only two stages and foe which only 16 players remained.  For me, it was great that one German player was still in it.

On the start of the evening-session the match between Aspinall and Cullen lured me to the Main Stage.  It was more than crowded – Aspinall was on stage.  But that was not all – the crowd was in a merry mood ignited by three dinosaurs cruising about which made everybody laugh and cheer.  It was difficult to get the crowd’s attention back to the stage – no one looked at the players or the officials – even when Russ Bray tried a fake 180.  The players looked very amused as well.  But finally the match went on and Aspinall had no problem winning against an under par Cullen.  It might be the be the dinosaurs played their part.

Dolan and Gilding were still playing on the second stage – both are quite slow players and not so popular with the crowd and so it was not really full over there.

On the main stage the match between Peter Wright and Richie Burnett followed – they had met years ago on the Lakeside stage.  And Peter Wright had a lot of hair!! Black hair!  Burnett’s walk-on caused goose bumps and the greeting of the two players on stage was the most touching and emotional moment of the tournament.  The match that followed was not a high-class affair but once again Burnett excelled in finishing.  Peter Wright couldn’t keep up and Burnett progressed into the quarterfinal.

After that, it became somewhat hectic for me as I wanted to watch both the Anderson vs. van Gerwen match on the Main Stage and the Schindler vs. Clayton match on the second stage.  I didn’t manage 100 percent – I missed the end of the Schindler match. But as we all now know, Schindler won – great!

Now, I was really fed up and tired from all the walking and the cold and watched the rather one-sided van Gerwen/Humphries match from the warmth of the press room where I could sit down.  Unluckily, in the press room only the match on the main stage was shown so I can’t say anything about the de Zwaan vs. Cross match – you at home surely saw more of it.

After all matches had finished the next draw followed.  Only eight players are still in the tournament.  Who would have thought Martin Schindler, Richie Burnett and Adam Gawlas would be among them!

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