Our darts Chris Hammer previews the BBC-televised Paddy Power Champions League of Darts, which takes place this weekend, and has two bets to consider.
Recommended Bets: Champions League of Darts
- 1pt Michael Smith to qualify at 7/4
- 1pt Peter Wright & Gerwyn Price both to qualify at 5/1
- 0.5pts Gerwyn Price to win at 10/1
- 0.5pts Michael Smith to win at 16/1
Now the fun and games of the double-start World Grand Prix are over, we're now back to normality for the hectic winter of televised majors, starting with the star-studded Champions League of Darts.
Over the space of around eight weeks fans will also be treated to the European Championship, World Series of Darts Finals, Grand Slam of Darts, the Players Championship Finals and of course the World Championship in a packed schedule.
What a time to be alive.
This weekend, the Morningside Arena in Leicester is privileged to host the fourth staging of this fantastic elite major, live on good old Auntie, as the top eight in the world are split into groups of four before the top two in each qualify for Sunday night's knockout stages.
My favourite thing about this event is whoever you back to win won't be going home after losing his first game!
Last year the group phrase produced one of my standout memories of 2018 when Gary Anderson needed to win a last-leg decider against Michael van Gerwen to reach the semi-finals. However, his great rival was on a finish when he was way back on 299...
It didn't seem to matter too much to MVG at the time but he would then lose in the last four as the Flying Scotsman went on to lift the trophy for the first time in his illustrious career and make up for the disappointment of finishing runner-up to Mensur Suljovic 12 months earlier.
Phil Taylor wooed the "old ladies and those who can't afford Sky" (his words) when defeating MVG in the inaugural final so this means it's one of the rare events that the world number one has failed to win - and he's desperate to put that right sooner than later.
He said: "I've never won this tournament before so it's an important tournament. It's one on my bucket list so I need to make sure I keep my focus. I'm very happy with how I played in the World Grand Prix and I was delighted to win that, and I want to keep that form going."
Indeed, the 30-year-old did keep his doubters quiet again last weekend when claiming his 11th PDC title since lifting his third Ally Pally trophy at the start of 2019, including the televised Masters, Premier League, Melbourne Masters and New Zealand Masters, so it's no surprise to see him as short as even-money to triumph again.
But for me that's not an appealing price given this is obviously a staked field of talent and none of them have any fears of taking him on.
Group A: Predicted finish
Verdict: Michael Smith to qualify at 7/4
- Michael Smith (5/1, 7/4)
- Michael van Gerwen (4/6, 1/8)
- James Wade (6/1, 7/4)
- Gary Anderson (4/1, 1/1)
(General odds to top group & qualify in brackets)
The prices at anyone other than Michael van Gerwen topping the group immediately catch the eye - and although I've 'predicted' Gary Anderson to finish bottom, I certainly wouldn't be surprised if he topped the standings either given the nature of this event.
The standard of all eight players can make any forecasts like this look foolish but I've made my decision based on Michael Smith perhaps being underrated after a trophy-less season so far.
Bully Boy has reached four finals since being runner-up to MVG at the Ally Pally on New Year's Day, including the World Matchplay and the televised US Darts Masters while the other two - on the Pro Tour - he lost to James Wade.
He may not have been at his best in recent weeks but this is a great chance for all that to change and end his title drought that stretches back to the Shanghai Darts Masters in 2018.
Everyone knows he's got the talent and ability to handle the pressure on his way to finals - it's now just a case of him clearing the mind when it gets to that last match and reproducing what we've already seen. Easy for me to say!
I'm going for the St Helens man to qualify from the group and also a small bet on him to lift what would be viewed as his first major trophy.
Anderson will always have his backers but he's still searching for his best form in what has been a troubled season ruined by injury at the start of it while James Wade is also an attractive price at 6/1 to top the group - and 16/1 for the title - having managed five tournament wins this season.
However all of those have been on the floor and he hasn't reached a TV final since the Masters back in January.
Group B: Predicted finish
Verdict: Peter Wright & Gerwyn Price both to qualify at 5/1
- Peter Wright (2/1, 5/6)
- Gerwyn Price (4/1, 11/10)
- Rob Cross (13/8, 8/13)
- Daryl Gurney (4/1, 11/10)
(General odds to top group & qualify in brackets)
As brilliant as Rob Cross is and as strong a battler as Daryl Gurney is, I can't look beyond Gerwyn Price and Peter Wright to qualify through this very tight group.
Snakebite is clearly operating close - or better than on this week's record-breaking evidence (!) - to the standard we saw from him during that glorious 2017 in which he won 11 titles and his current seasonal tally of five (including the World Cup) is only going one way.
Wright endured a frustrating first half of 2019 but since leading Scotland to glory with Gary Anderson it's been a different story and on Tuesday he picked up his fourth individual crown just 24 hours after setting a new world record for an average in a broadcast match of 123.5.
Last year's runner-up has also been reaching countless latter stages of tournaments so expect him to go through in this group and, to be honest, I'm extremely tempted to go for him to lift the trophy.
However, I'm going to give the nod to Gerwyn Price.
The fact he's preparing for his Champions League debut underlines what an upward curve the Welshman has been on over the past 12 months, backing up the Grand Slam of Darts triumph with four more PDC titles in 2019.
His most recent last month was a trademark frosty affair with Krzysztof Ratajski before holding his nerve in a deciding leg and although he bowed out in the opening round of the World Grand Prix, it was to eventual runner-up Dave Chisnall who played sparkling darts all week.
Price will relish a return to this format and wouldn't it be an incredible sight for the pantomime villain of darts to throw a nine-dart finish which this weekend will win the crowd an equal share of £100,000!