The Sky Sports-televised Boylesports Grand Slam of Darts gets under way this weekend and our expert Chris Hammer brings you his group-by-group preview and tournament tips.
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Recommended Bets: Grand Slam of Darts
- 0.5pts Williams, Hughes, Noppert, Dolan & Aspinall all to qualify at 26/1
- 1pt Peter Wright to win the title at 12/1
- 1pt winner to come from Group H at 9/1
- 1pt Brendan Dolan to top Group G at 5/1
- 0.5pts Brendan Dolan each-way at 200/1
The qualification process for the Grand Slam of Darts has its fair share of critics among players, pundits and fans alike so it was no surprise to see the debate come to the fore once again ahead of its 13th staging.
On Sunday night Danny Noppert snatched the last automatic spot at the expense of world number 10 Mensur Suljovic by finishing runner-up to Michael van Gerwen at the World Series of Darts Finals - an event he was only playing in due to an invitation.
Without wanting to get bogged down by the complexities of it all, had Noppert lost to the already-qualified Dave Chisnall in the semi-finals then Suljovic would have booked his place in Wolverhampton along with Ian White as the two highest ranked European Tour event winners.
As Diamond had won two tournaments to Suljovic's one, it was the Austrian who missed out at the 11th hour to a player who hadn't reached a final of any event in 2019 until the last possible opportunity.
Joe Cullen, ranked 16 in the world and winner of the European Darts Matchplay, was also miffed to have missed out and thinks a European Tour title should be enough to earn a spot, while plenty will wonder why the runners-up of the World Cup (Willie O'Connor & Steve Lennon) get in as well as the beaten finalist of the World Youth Championship - Martin Schindler.
On top of all that, as many as eight spots are given out in the 'lottery' of a last-ditch qualifier - of which one went to world number 95 Ryan Harrington - and then you have others questioning why the BDO gets any place, let alone eight!
Personally I'm a fan of how the process throws up a smattering of curious qualifiers to give the final line up a degree of freshness compared to all the other majors, while the BDO contingent should also be sacrosanct to keep this event so unique, regardless of the any gulf in class.
Suljovic had plenty of chances to get in and will clearly qualify for future stagings and as for Cullen's view, what if there was a year in which MVG took a sabbatical and there were around 10 different European Tour winners?
Anyway, let's now turn our attention to the 32 players who have made it in as I run through all eight groups...
Group Stage Predictions
- (Sky Bet odds to top groups & qualify in brackets. BDO players in italics)
- All group games best of nine legs. Top two qualify for knockout stages
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- CLICK HERE FOR DAY ONE MATCH PREDICTIONS
Group A: Predicted finish
- Michael van Gerwen (1/5 to win, 1/12 to qualify)
- Jim Williams (12/1 to win, 13/8 to qualify)
- Adrian Lewis (7/1 to win, 4/5 to qualify)
- Ross Smith (10/1 to win, 11/8 to qualify)
As you'll see in virtually all of the eight groups, the odds on any player to finish in the top two aren't exactly eye-catching as single bets.
Given that each match throughout this round robin phrase is just best of nine legs, shocks and mini upsets should perhaps be expected more in this tournament than many others.
Therefore, apart from a handful of examples, you really wouldn't be surprised to see anyone reaching the next stage but in Group A there does seem to be some value thanks to Michael van Gerwen seemingly guaranteed to take one of the spots.
The world champion, who lifted this trophy three years in succession from 2015 before losing to Gary Anderson in the last four 12 months ago, has won three of the last four televised events - including Sunday's World Series of Darts Finals - and seven this season, although he did lose to Ross Smith at the recent European Championship over a best of 11 legs.
But I'm not going with Smith to come through the group with MVG, instead I like the look of BDO star Jim Williams.
I'm still having sleepless nights about his semi-final defeat to Glen Durrant at the Lakeside having tipped both him and eventual runner-up Scott Waites at big prices for the title - but that hasn't put me off siding from him again. Far from it.
The Welshman had a pretty tough time in the immediate aftermath of that disappointment as he made a mess of Q School before suffering some early exits until a run to the German Masters semis.
In recent months he's won the BDO World Trophy and the English Open, beating the likes of Richard Veenstra, Wayne Warren and Wesley Harms - all of which are competing in Wolverhampton - while he was runner-up at the Welsh Open and reached the semi-finals of the British Open.
In short, he's a dangerous proposition for his PDC counterparts and is also now familiar with this tournament following his appearance last year in which he beat Max Hopp despite group stage elimination.
It is tempting to chase the inflated group winner prices because even though Michael van Gerwen is in such hot form, he was pipped to top spot by Jonny Clayton 12 months ago. Anything is possible.
Group B: Predicted finish
- Ian White (6/4, 4/7)
- Steve Lennon (6/1, 11/10)
- James Wade (5/4, 1/2)
- Wesley Harms (13/2, 5/4)
Many of the aforementioned critics of this qualifying criteria will be pointing at Steve Lennon - as well as William O'Connor - as players who are most fortunate to be here on the back of being runners-up in the World Cup.
He's hardly ripped up trees elsewhere this season and his struggles to really thrust himself up the rankings on the Pro Tour events mean his televised appearances are few and far between - although he did reach the quarter-finals of the 2018 Players Championship Finals.
There's no doubt he has the talent to go further in the game and considering he evidently saves his best for the stage, he'll be itching to remind everyone what he can do in a tough group just like he did in 2017 when reaching the last 16.
As far as winning the group, I'm going for Ian White while James Wade could be the big name to miss out.
Diamond may have this relentless mental block about ever getting beyond quarter-finals of televised events, falling at that very hurdle for the ninth time during a heart-stopping clash against underdog Danny Noppert at the World Series of Darts Finals on Sunday.
The 49-year-old, who won two tournaments on the European Tour after edging deciding legs against Peter Wright and MVG this season, doesn't seem to have issues during the early stages of the big events and I can see him flying through here with a perfect record.
That's not to underestimate the Machine of course, who could make a mockery of what I've written here, but he lost his grip of both the European Championship and World Series in the first rounds and could be vulnerable again.
Group C: Predicted finish
- Gerwyn Price (5/4, 1/2)
- Mikuru Suzuki (40/1, 8/1)
- Dimitri Van den Bergh (11/4, 1/2)
- Robert Thornton (6/1, 4/6)
I can't help but think the 8/1 for Mikuru Suzuki to qualify is worth a little flutter when you consider that in five groups over the past two seasons, three of the four players have been tied on just two points.
Is it really that unlikely for the Japanese star to win one of these short matches and hope the brilliant defending champion Gerwyn Price goes through with a 100% record? That obviously wouldn't guarantee a three-way tie for second but it'd give her a fighting chance.
It'd be quite some story to say the least and having watched Reanne Evans come from 3-0 down against Shaun Murphy in snooker's Champion of Champions this week - only to lose the decider - we could see another example of women giving the men a sporting scare.
Van den Bergh only averaged in the mid-80s during his first-round exit at the European Championship while Robert Thornton is also capable of a mark that would give Suzuki a glimmer of hope if she produces her best.
Yes, it's a lot to ask and my faith in the Sporting Gods may be clouding my judgement, but it's feasible enough for me.
Group D: Predicted finish
- Darren Webster (7/2, 4/5)
- William O'Connor (7/2, 4/5)
- Gary Anderson (4/5, 1/3)
- Dave Parletti (6/1, 6/4)
As much as I'd love to see Gary Anderson go all the way and win this trophy for the first time, his injury problems and lack of form make him almost unbackable at the pre-tournament prices.
He was in clear discomfort when averaging just 71.05 in a performance scarily below his best at the World Series of Darts last weekend and you'll have to see how he looks during the group stage on the Wolverhampton stage before deciding whether he's capable of going the distance.
In terms of picking who will take advantage, I'm going to give the nod to Darren Webster, who reached the last 16 here two years ago and has a much better track record in majors than Willie O'Connor even if his form this season hasn't been much to write home about.
Dave Parletti is the BDO representative in this group and if he plays to his best then he'll fancy his chances of qualification too so all in all this is wide open.
Group E: Predicted finish
- Jamie Hughes (4/1, 8/13)
- Dave Chisnall (6/4, 2/5)
- Rob Cross (1/1, 1/3)
- Lisa Ashton (50/1, 10/1)
Lisa Ashton couldn't have been handed a much tougher group but at least all three of her matches - especially against Rob Cross and Dave Chisnall - can be considered glamour ties that will push her further into the limelight, and deservedly so.
The Lancashire Rose was fantastic during last season's PDC World Championship as she thrilled the crowd during a pulsating clash with Jan Dekker and although her average of 88 wasn't enough to stop her losing 3-1, she did women's darts no end of good.
She gets another chance to do the same and will have the fans firmly on her side, perhaps even against local favourite Jamie Hughes, but I can't see the same kind of fairytale scenario that I can just about envisage for Suzuki.
Instead the best bet in this group is for the talented Tipton man to top it at 4/1.
The secret about Hughes' talents has long out of the bag and he even gave the PDC an early warning of his potential three years ago when topping his Grand Slam group as a BDO player on debut ahead of James Wade, James Wilson and Dave Chisnall.
This year he came through the last-ditch qualifier on Monday, which dampens fears over the elbow injury that hampered him at the European Championship, although unlike some of the others to do the same, Hughes has enjoyed a superb maiden season on the PDC circuit, winning the Czech Darts Open to book his spot at the World Matchplay while also having countless runs to the latter stages of many other tournaments.
He's well capable of springing a 'surprise' against Cross and Chisnall in a longer format, let alone best of nine, so he's certainly a spot of value to finish ahead of them both.
It's also his 'home tournament' which he's been targeting all year and that's got to count for something when the Wolverhampton crowd give him a roaring reception.
As far as second place goes, it's a close call but Chizzy has won his last five meetings with the World Matchplay and European champion this year, including last week at the World Series, and that's as good a reason to take a chance on a big name going home early.
Group F: Predicted finish
- Danny Noppert (3/1, 4/7)
- Peter Wright (1/2, 1/7)
- Wayne Warren (8/1, 7/4)
- Ryan Harrington (8/1, 7/4)
This time last week Danny Noppert probably hadn't even thought about the possibility of playing in the Grand Slam of Darts so you could say he'll head to Wolverhampton feeling like this is a 'free hit' of sorts.
The Dutchman almost ridiculed his 150/1 pre-tournament odds at last weekend's World Series of Darts Finals as he reached his maiden televised PDC final and although he lost meekly to MVG, he was understandably drained having come through two nail-biting final leg deciders earlier in the day to defeat Ian White and Dave Chisnall.
While there's been plenty of debate about whether he deserves a Grand Slam spot ahead of the likes of Mensur Suljovic and Joe Cullen, he's here now with a great chance to reach the second round - at least - like he did as a BDO man back in 2016.
Peter Wright is the favourite to top the group and you can't really argue with that after the season he's enjoyed with four titles, a world average record, and a run to 'that' recent Champions League of Darts final, which he really should have won against MVG.
However he's just in the midst of a mini blip due to early exits at the European Championship and World Series in successive weeks so I reckon he's a tad vulnerable in terms of topping the standings.
Wayne Warren shouldn't be dismissed given the fantastic season he's had in the BDO by reaching four finals, including the Antwerp Open that he won, and there'll be no shortage of darts fans who follow that organisation closely fancying him to sneak through.
Group G: Predicted finish
- Brendan Dolan (5/1, 5/4)
- Gabriel Clemens (3/1, 1/1)
- Daryl Gurney (4/5, 1/4)
- Richard Veenstra (5/1, 5/4)
This is one of those groups which I fear I could be completely wrong. I do rate Richard Veenstra highly and I'm already considering him for the BDO world title so having him bottom isn't an enjoyable prediction to make.
Brendan Dolan is playing fantastic darts at the moment, winning two Players Championship titles since August while he even averaged 112 in his final qualifier on Monday to book his spot in Wolverhampton.
Something has clicked for the History Maker, who upset the odds to reach the World Championship quarter-finals last year, as he bids to rise back up the rankings in emphatic fashion and this would be another great opportunity to do just that.
Daryl Gurney is in danger here because rising German star Gabriel Clemens is showing signs of the kind of form that helped him reach the World Series event in his homeland earlier this season.
Although he lost in the opening round of last weekend's World Series of Darts Finals to Jermaine Warrimena, he still managed to average 100 while he was impressive during Monday's qualifying event to earn another crack on TV.
Group H: Predicted finish
- Nathan Aspinall (9/4, 4/6)
- Michael Smith (7/4, 4/9)
- Glen Durrant (2/1, 4/7)
- Martin Schindler (7/1, 5/2)
Quite simply the 'group of death' and it couldn't really be harder to predict.
Nathan Aspinall's career has obviously gone from strength to strength this season since reaching the World Championship semi-finals thanks to two televised titles at the UK Open and US Darts Masters as well as three other finals on the Pro Tour while Glen Durrant has won a couple of those floor events which helped him qualify for the World Matchplay, where he beat MVG en route to the last four.
Smith is empty handed in 2019 and is still seeking the first big major of his career but he's certainly not played poorly this season having reached four finals, including Blackpool and Las Vegas, so it's no surprise at all to see him priced up as marginal favourite to top the standings.
Although Martin Schindler is the big outsider and I don't expect him to go through, he could easily throw a spanner in the works of the big three and it won't just be a case of how easily the others beat him.
I think this is one of those groups to enjoy and not try and predict but if pushed, I'd side with Aspinall purely because his odds are more tempting.
Of the 'usual suspects' I'd say Peter Wright has a fantastic chance to lift the trophy at 12/1 even though I have predicted him to go through to the knockout stages as runner-up.
Once Snakebite is into the longer format he'll be a formidable opponent for anyone, for reasons already outlined regarding his sparkling form over the second half of the season, and it's important to note that his early exits in the last two tournaments were over best of 11 when he was still averaging close to 100.
I'd love to see him have another go at MVG following his heartbreak in the Champions League final, in which he missed three match darts from 10-7 up, but at least he proved he has the game to really push him to the wire.
Anyone who reads my previews knows I never back Michael van Gerwen due to the short prices but I have to concede that the way he's playing makes it very tough to side with anyone from Groups A-D, even Gerwyn Price.
By the time the blockbuster pair potentially meet in the semi-finals, it'll be over 31 legs and that's going to be a particularly tough mountain to climb for a player who's still yet to beat him in 19 previous attempts, even if the last five in shorter formats went to deciding legs, including that epic Champions League of Darts semi-final.
The other bet I fancy - as something of a back up to Wright - is backing anyone from Group H to lift the title at 9/1.
It's been branded the group of death due to the calibre of Michael Smith, Glen Durrant and Nathan Aspinall, who are all individually between 20/1 and 28/1 to win the title, so unless Martin Schindler upsets the apple cart, I'd be quite happy with any two of those flying the flag.
My major gripe with this tournament's format is that you could meet the player you progress with as early as the quarter-finals rather than going into opposite halves of the knockout draw bracket. But at least we could potentially have a guaranteed semi-finalist if that situation arises, with the winner going on to meet Snakebite for a place in the final.
If you've got to the end of this preview disappointed not to find a low risk each-way bet suggestion at a crazy price, then how about Brendan Dolan at a massive 200/1 with Boylesports?
I've already explained why he's got the form and new-found confidence to get out of the groups but perhaps he could take that even further and reach his first major final since the World Grand Prix of 2011 during his heyday.
Dolan's averages on the floor have been superb of late - often pushing 100 and beyond - and defeated the likes of Jeffrey de Zwaan, Chris Dobey, Dave Chisnall, Glen Durrant and Jermaine Wartimena to end his five-year wait for a title in August before playing equally brilliant stuff to overcome Gerwyn Price, Peter Wright and Ian White to bag another last month.
Afterwards he said: "I can still do it, I played quality darts today at the right times and I think I deserved any luck I got. The one in Hildesheim was more of a relief, whereas today I came into it with more belief that I could win having done it recently. When you've not been winning for five years your confidence is not so high and winning in Hildesheim has drastically changed that.
"In my head today I was determined to add money to my ranking to give me shot of qualifying for the 2020 World Matchplay and World Grand Prix. I've missed those two events for the last three years and it's killed me not being there, so hopefully next year I will be."
These quotes just highlight how a mentally of a player and belief in their own ability can just change in the blink of an eye when the sheer determination finally pays off.
This bet is obviously a big call that needs quite a leap of faith but anything is possible in this wonderful world of darts.
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