The BDO World Darts Championships gets under way this weekend and our expert Chris Hammer previews both the men's and women's tournaments before delivering his best bets.
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Now our energy levels are restored following the (mostly) absorbing 1850 legs of action at Alexandra Palace over the festive period, we're now ready to go again at the more sedentary Lakeside Country Club.
Sorry to disappoint anyone who clicked into this preview hoping to find some mocking barbs about the perceived standard of the BDO - you won't. In the same way many of the world's very best players past and present began their careers in this organisation, so did my own fascination with darts and I'm certainly not the only one.
Why can't we just all embrace both World Championships for what they are and understand the reasons why the PDC version has better averages, without it leading to the original version being unfairly ridiculed for a few 'bad' visits that lazily do the rounds on social media every year. After these three tweets below, I'll crack on with why most of you are here - trying to find the best value bets for the Lakeside.
Right, enough of that. Game on...
The men's tournament
Two-time defending champion Glen Durrant is hot favourite, as you might expect, to lift this famous trophy for the third time in a row before his attempt to earn a PDC Tour card at Qualifying School.
No man has achieved this feat since the late great Eric Bristow from 1984 to 1986 so how can he handle the weight of history on his shoulders?
He's clearly a player of the highest quality and would clearly be able to mix it with the best in the PDC - as we've seen at the Grand Slam of Darts where he's twice reached the knockout stages in the past three years and in 2017 went as far as the quarter-finals - but sometimes he does struggle with his nerves on the big stage. That concerns me when he's trying to do something so historic.
In 2017 he was on the brink of elimination in the second round against Paul Hogan before launching a stunning comeback from 3-0 down to win 4-3 and 12 months ago he survived huge scares against Jim Williams in the quarter-finals - edging it 5-4 - and, of course, when the trophy was on the line against Mark McGeeney, who missed two championship darts in an absolute thriller.
That's not to say he didn't play well in those games - in fact, against Williams, he managed only the 21st 100+ average in BDO World Championship history and first since 2014. Crucially he did get over the line in all those tests and it was his opponents who blew their chances.
The 48-year-old Teesider comes into this event in top form having claimed the big Finder Darts Masters title last month, where he won both group games against Scott Waites and Gary Robson, albeit narrowly, before defeating Conan Whitehead, McGeeney and Richard Veenstra in the knockout stages.
Duzza also won the BDO World Trophy in June and despite being runner-up to Adam Smith-Neale in the Winmau World Masters final, he averaged 99. Again highlighting the quality you can find in the BDO.
The only reason he isn't top seed is because he picks and chooses his events these days and plays plenty of exhibitions but make no mistake about it, he's the best man in the field.
But who could stop him reaching the final?
Bottom half of the draw
- Jim Williams (3) v Roger Janssen or Wouter Vaes
- Daniel Day (14) v Dean Reynolds
- Scott Mitchell (6) v Oliver Ferenc or Ryan Hogarth
- Dave Parletti (11) v Brian Lokken or Krzystof Kciuk
- Gary Robson (7) v David Cameron or Andy Hamilton
- Chris Landman (10) v Kyle McKinstry
- Glen Durrant (2) v Mark McGrath or Adam Smith-Neale
- Ross Montgomery (15) v Scott Baker
Well, some may feel the answer to that question could come in the very first round. The man who defeated him in the aforementioned World Masters final back in October 'just' needs to get past Leeds United supporter Mark McGrath from New Zealand in the preliminary round to set up a clash with Durrant on Tuesday evening.
Before I get into the reasons why miracle man Smith-Neale can cause a shock against the defending champion, I must warn those who may casually dismiss McGrath.
The 50-year-old Kiwi, who was born in Leeds before his family emigrated to New Zealand way back in 1981, claimed a famous scalp at last year's PDC Auckland Darts Masters as he defeated Michael Smith 6-4 and afterwards used that not-so-famous Yorkshire term 'stoked' to describe how happy he felt.
Admittedly Bully Boy was under the weather and only averaged 83, but even so, McGrath still went down as the first Kiwi to beat a top PDC player in the four-year history of the event.
Smith-Neale, however, should still progress against a player who has only appeared on World Championship stages twice - losing 4-0 in legs to Scott Kirchner in the 2015 PDC edition before losing 3-0 against Scott Mitchell at the Lakeside in 2017.
So why, might you ask, is Smith-Neale playing in the preliminary round and why did I describe him as a miracle man?
To address the first point, he's focused a lot on the PDC's Challenge Tour this season having missed out on earning a full PDC Tour Card last January but his incredible run as an 80/1 outsider at the World Masters in Bridlington proved what he can do.
The 25-year-old wasn't seeded so had to wade through all the early rounds on the floor before defeating Daniel Day, Mark McGeeney, Wayne Warren, Jim Williams and Durrent from the last 32 onwards, averaging 90+ in all those games.
That earned the Coventry thrower a spot at the Lakeside for the first time and also qualified him for the Grand Slam of Darts, where he pushed Michael Smith and Raymond van Barneveld hard before being blown away from Krzysztof Ratajski.
As for the miracle man tag - well, as recently as November he only went and broke his leg and only just started physio shortly before the New Year.
'Big Dog' has recovered in time to take his place but surely the lack of practice and competition for a month can't be good?
Following his Twitter feed, he's been posting plenty of updates and seems in good spirits but it's such a shame he won't be in full health with a month of painless practice behind him. I would definitely have tipped him up.
I may put a romantic pound of my own money on him anyway for fun at 50/1 but I can't advise anyone to do the same.
Elsewhere in this bottom quarter of the draw there's the dangerous Northern Irishman Kyle McKinstry but a player who will catch many punters' eyes is former PDC World Championship runner-up Andy Hamilton, who is appearing at the Lakeside for the first time since his switch to the BDO.
The Hammer - no relation to me - lost to Adrian Lewis in the 2012 PDC final before reaching the last eight a year later during a great time in his career in which he featured in the Premier League.
Since then he has gradually slid down the rankings and eventually out of the top 64 and losing his PDC Tour card at the end of 2017.
Hamilton opted against Qualifying School 12 months ago, instead deciding to 'go back to basics' on the BDO circuit - although that didn't begin until after a 6-0 thumping to Jermaine Wattimena in the UK Open, where he was competing as a Rileys Amateur qualifier.
Since then, the 51-year-old has done pretty well, reaching the final of both the Welsh Open and the Malta Open as well as quarter-final runs in Wolverhampton and Belgium, which has all helped him rise up to 22 in the world rankings but he still had to come through a last-gasp qualifying event in Bridlington to earn his Lakeside place.
Hamilton is not without a chance at 25/1 as he continues to get his career back on track but if he gets past David Cameron in the preliminary round then he has a tough test right away against stalwart Gary Robson, who is seventh seed after another consistent season.
The 51-year-old, who has reached the quarter-finals here three times before although not since 2011, qualified for the 2018 Grand Slam of Darts, where he won one of his group matches but lost to Michael van Gerwen and Jonny Clayton, while he's reached four finals on the BDO circuit this season and countless quarter-finals, including the World Masters.
I think the top quarter in this bottom half is a toss up between Scott Mitchell and Jim Williams although Wolverhampton Open and Welsh Masters winner Dave Parletti is well fancied in the betting.
I tipped Williams last year at 50/1 each-way so it was somewhat heartbreaking to see him squander a 4-1 lead against Durrant in the quarter-finals.
Since then the Welshman has gone from strength to strength, rising up to three in the world rankings thanks to winning four titles and reaching the latter stages of a whole host of other tournaments, including semi-final runs in the World Masters and Finder Masters.
At the Grand Slam of Darts, where I backed him to get out of the group, he defeated Germany's rising star Max Hopp but suffered a narrow 5-4 defeat to Peter Wright and also lost to Josh Payne.
Mitchell branded his season as 'difficult' on social media recently but maybe that just shows the expectations he puts on himself because he has won five individual titles, albeit none of them being the major ones.
He obviously knows how to win here having lifted the trophy back in 2015 and I can see why he's favourite to progress through the quarter but I reckon Williams is the bet here at 3/1 and worth an each-way punt at 28/1 for the title.
Top half of the draw
- Mark McGeeney (1) v Derk Telnekes
- Martin Philips (16) v Conan Whitehead
- Richard Veenstra (8) v Jim Widmayer or Nigel Heydon
- Scott Waites (9) v Jeffrey van Egdom
- Michael Unterbuchner (5) v Mal Cuming or Justin Thompson
- Wayne Warren (12) v Mark Layton
- Wesley Harms (4) v Tony O’Shea
- Willem Mandigers (13) v Paul Hogan or Wes Newton
In last year's preview I also backed McGeeney at 25/1 so it was obviously galling to see him miss two match darts for the title against Durrant in the final.
Since then the Gladiator's 2018 season has been littered with a string of consistent runs to latter stages of tournaments as well as two recent titles in the Turkish Open and Turkish Masters.
But this year the top seed, who was edged out by Durrant in the Finder Masters semi-finals last month, has a potentially dangerous ride after what should be a straightforward victory over Derk Telnekes.
Welsh legend Martin Phillips, appearing at the Lakeside for the 16th time 27 years after his first ended with a defeat to a certain Phil Taylor, is still an awkward customer having twice reached the semi-finals here back in 2010 and 2011 while in the quarter-finals he could run into Scott Waites.
The two-time champion, who last triumphed here in 2016, enjoyed a great run to the semis last year before being outplayed against Durrant and since then it was a bit of an up and down season.
This isn't anything to be alarmed by because this sums up his recent career. When he's on his game and up for it, he's as good as anyone and fantastic to watch, but then out of the blue he'll hit a sticky patch. This is the stage where he loves to produce his best. He was very good at Lakeside last year, reaching the semi-finals, and this is when he tends to produce his best.
Rather than take him at 11/4 to win the quarter, I'll take him each-way at 25/1.
My other outright pick from this half of the draw, Michael Unterbuchner at 10/1, will be a popular one with many darts punters.
The German was an unheralded and relatively unknown outsider this time 12 months ago but held his nerve in a strong of hard-fought battles against Jamie Hughes, Martin Phillips and Richard Veenstra to reach the semi-finals on his Lakeside debut
Unterbuchner, 30, won the Swiss Open last year but more impressively beat McGeeney en route to the final of the BDO World Trophy, where he lost 10-7 to Durrant, and also overcame Darius Labanauskas in reaching the German Masters final.
However, he also made a huge impact in front of a huge crowd on his Grand Slam of Darts debut as he stunned both Ian White and James Wade on a fantastic run to the quarter-finals, only to have his dream ended by Gary Anderson.
It won't be easy though. If he comes through his first test then he'll meet the winner of the 'battle of Wales' between experienced Wayne Warren and current national captain Mark Layton while next up would probably be one of Wesley Harms, Tony O'Shea, Paul Hogan or Wes Newton.
The fact I've listed four names there shows how tough I'm finding it to call that incredibly tough mini section.
The Silverback is enjoying a renaissance after putting his injury woes behind him and will, as ever, have the crowd behind him but Hogan is an extremely canny operator.
A two-time quarter-finalist in years gone by, the 55-year-old Englishman gave Durrant a massive scare in 2017 while he's also caused no end of shocks in the PDC's UK Open when qualifying as a Riley's Amateur Qualifier.
He beat Gary Anderson and Adrian Lewis there in 2017 before being edged out by Gerwyn Price while last year he stunned van Gerwen's conqueror Jeffrey de Zwaan before losing 10-9 to that man Price again.
However, John Part scoffed at his underdog status during one our podcasts last year, branding him the 'professional amateur' given his obvious quality and experience.
He comes up against former PDC Premier League player Newton, who switched to the BDO after missing out on a Tour Card last year, in the preliminary round and that really could go either way.
The women's tournament
It says a lot that one of the commentators and pundits for Eurosport and Quest's coverage of the World Championship - Paul Nicholson - is looking forward to the women's tournament so much.
The Asset is a huge advocate of the women's game, as you may have heard in our PDC World Darts Championship Podcast, and while Lisa Ashton is a worthy favourite to win the title for the fifth time in six years, she'll have plenty of stiff opposition.
I don't doubt for one second they'll be plenty of punters on the Durrant-Ashton double, especially given how impressively the Lancashire Rose played during her PDC World Darts Championship debut.
Although she lost her match 3-1 against Jan Dekker, she averaged over 100 in taking the first set and certainly did women's darts proud.
She opens up against exciting Japanese qualifier Mikuru Suzuki, who literally can't stop dominating the game in Asia, could be one to watch having narrowly lost to Deta Hedman in the World Masters quarter-finals.
After defending her Lakeside crown last year, Ashton went on to win 10 BDO titles including the prestigious Finder Masters - although she was pushed all the way by rising star Fallon Sherrock.
It was the seventh time out of eight meetings in 2018 that Ashton got the better of her 24-year-old rival, including the Lakeside quarter-final, but Sherrock also lifted 10 trophies last year.
One of those was the BDO World Trophy thanks to a final win over Lorraine Winstanley, who beat Lisa Ashton's conqueror Anastasia Dobromyslova in the last four, while she beat the same opponent en route to England Matchplay glory.
The popular Deta Hedman, who is still seeking her first world title, was Sherrock's final opponent on that occasion and is in the same half of the draw at the Lakeside so I think you now get the picture on why picking a winner is so difficult.
I think it'd be great for darts if a young star like Sherrock could triumph but it will be ridiculously tough to get to the final, and then she'd probably have to face Dobromyslova or Winstanley!
Nevertheless at 10/1 I still think she's worth a small wager but you could easily make a case for some many players - even some I haven't mentioned yet such as Aileen de Graaf, Sharon Prins and, of course, Trina Gulliver.
Interestingly, in an otherwise very enjoyable to watch preview on the BDO website, Martin Adams was pushed to name a women's winner and he went with de Graaf. Why? Purely because they share the same sponsor! Remember that logic if she goes on and triumphs!
- Lorraine Winstanley (1) v Casey Gallagher
- Trina Gulliver (8) v Karolina Podgorska
- Anastasia Dobromyslova (4) v Laura Turner
- Aileen de Graaf (5) v Paula Jacklin
- Deta Hedman (3) v Maria O’Brien
- Fallon Sherrock (6) v Corrine Hammond
- Lisa Ashton (2) v Mikuru Suzuki
- Sharon Prins (7) v Roz Bulmer
Recommended Bets: BDO World Darts Championships
1pt Michael Unterbuchner to win the title at 10/1
0.5pts each-way Scott Waites to win the title at 25/1 (1/2 1,2)
0.5pt each-way Jim Williams to win the title at 25/1 (1/2 1,2)
1pt Jim Williams to win the third quarter at 3/1
1pt Fallon Sherrock to win the women's title at 10/1