Our Chris Hammer previews the Grand Slam of Darts in Wolverhampton (November 10-18), which features both PDC and BDO players, and goes through each group to find his best bets.
The age old phrase "beware the wounded animal" is again being uttered in the world of darts as an angry Michael van Gerwen once again finds himself with a point to prove following two more doses of major disappointment in the past fortnight - and where better to set the record straight at a tournament he loves winning.
A growing number of doubters had dared to question his dominance ahead of last month's World Grand Prix in a year which saw him fail at three big TV events (the UK Open, World Matchplay and Champions League of Darts) despite him winning 16 other tournaments, including the Premier League.
But the world number one silenced them emphatically when romping to glory in Dublin before scooping up his 18th title of 2018 a fortnight later as he ominously moved up a gear ahead of the real business end of the season.
However, those critics have perked up again following his shock exits to Steve West and Raymond van Barneveld at the next two big TV events he'd previously enjoyed so much success - the European Championship and World Series of Darts Finals respectively.
He'd won the last four Euros and all three previous stagings of the World Series of Darts Finals while he heads to Wolverhampton with a similarly formidable record in the Grand Slam, where he's hunting his fourth successive triumph.
Scarily he's won 21 matches on the trot in this tournament although this year it will be a different stage due to the location change from the Wolverhampton Civic to the Aldersley Leisure Village.
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Chris Hammer is raising money for Cancer Research by competing in a charity darts event at Elland Road on Friday night. Nicknamed 'Thor', Chris will be playing in front of a big crowd for the first time - just like the other 31 amateurs and novices also involved - so it's sure to be a nerve-wracking night! Sky Betting and Gaming will match all proceeds raised up to £500 so if you'd like to donate to this great cause, just click on the image below.
Now back to the Grand Slam of Darts...
He still goes off at odds-on favourite but, like I said in my previews of the last two tournaments, he's just not worth lumping on due to this drop off in fear factor levels.
Sure he can still blow everyone away - often with his B game - but the examples of opponents standing up to him and not bottling their chances under pressure are stacking up.
Steve West had never beaten him in 14 previous attempts yet held his nerve at the Euros while Barney put aside his pretty dismal recent head-to-head record behind him to finish him off in Austria last weekend.
I'm now going to go through each group of this Sky Sports-televised major and offer a predicted finish and a suggested bet for each one.
Group A: Predicted finish
- Click here for playing schedule, tournament format & results
- Sky Bet odds to win group & to qualify in brackets
- All players PDC unless stated
- Michael van Gerwen (1/8, 1/50)
- (BDO) Gary Robson (25/1, 9/4)
- Jonny Clayton (7/1, 4/6)
- Joe Murnan (25/1, 9/4)
I think there's perhaps a spot of value to be had with BDO stalwart Gary Robson edging through here at 5/2 although Joe Murnan will be on a high having booked his place here as recently as Monday's final qualifying event.
On paper and reputation, Jonny Clayton is the strongest player apart from MVG but the Welshman has struggled for form and confidence over the past few months despite winning a maiden European Tour title back in April.
Robson recently reached the World Masters quarter-final and the British Open semis while he's also made four BDO finals in 2018 albeit not winning any of them.
Group B: Predicted finish
- Krzysztof Ratajski (3/1, 1/1)
- Michael Smith (11/10, 2/7)
- Raymond van Barneveld (2/1, 4/7)
- (BDO) Adam Smith-Neale (16/1, 3/1)
I predicted Barney would upset the odds to win his quarter at the World Series of Darts Finals by beating MVG but he badly ran out of steam in the semis against eventual champion James Wade and I reckon he's vulnerable in this group.
Victory over his Dutch rival was a rare glimpse of his vintage form in a largely disappointing season and he'll have his work cut out against European Championship and Premier League runner-up Michael Smith as well as the dangerous Krzysztof Ratajski.
The Pole, who won the BDO's World Masters in 2017, memorably completed a Players Championship double last month, collecting back-to-back honours on the Saturday and Sunday to make it three PDC titles overall this year.
He beat the likes of James Wilson, Steve Beaton, Daryl Gurney, Michael Smith, Kyle Anderson and Adrian Lewis across both days so he hardly had it easy.
Interestingly only MVG and Gary Anderson have enjoyed perfect weekends on the Players Championship tour this year so Ratajski is in elite company.
Meanwhile the BDO's Adam Smith-Neale recently won the World Masters, beating Glen Durrant 6-4 in the final, so he's not without hope.
Group C: Predicted finish
- James Wade (8/15, 1/5)
- Wesley Harms (6/1, 5/4)
- Keegan Brown (5/1, 1/1)
- Mark Webster (6/1, 5/4)
James Wade waited almost five years to win his eighth big TV title two weeks ago at the European Championship, then won another seven days later at the World Series of Darts Finals!
It's great for the game of darts to see the Machine back in the major winners' enclosure following a lean spell which saw him lose his Premier League place and not only is he displaying those trademark battling qualities but he's producing high averages and killer checkouts at key times.
He dedicated both triumphs to his first child Arthur, who was born just last month, I can't see this happy dad being eliminated early.
As for the others, I reckon the BDO's in-form Wesley Harms could be value to qualify having recently won the England Classic as well as reaching the British Classic final.
Group D: Predicted finish
- Ian White (7/2, 4/7)
- Gary Anderson (1/3, 1/12)
- (BDO) Michael Unterbuchner (7/1, 7/4)
- Steve Hine (16/1, 7/2)
Pretty clear cut this group although Michael Unterbuchner's consistency on the BDO circuit means he's viewed as the biggest threat to Gary Anderson and Ian White.
Anderson is desperate to win this event for the first time and will be extra focused on avoiding any slip ups after how he performed at the World Grand Prix and World Series of Darts Finals while Ian White's recent dip in form shouldn't take too much away from what has been a superb season overall.
Group E: Predicted finish
- Peter Wright (8/13, 2/9)
- (BDO) Jim Williams (8/1, 2/1)
- Max Hopp (3/1, 8/11)
- Josh Payne (6/1, 6/4)
I backed Jim Williams at a huge price to win the 2018 BDO World Championship so obviously I still can't get his incredible quarter-final with Glen Durrant out of my head.
Since then the Welshman has gone from strength to strength by winning four titles and reaching the latter stages of a whole host of other tournaments, including the World Masters.
It's a tough group, clearly, and Hopp's growing confidence on the big stage will prompt many into thinking he can top this group - so really we could see Peter Wright in trouble. These group matches are so short - first to five legs - that outsiders are well worth looking at.
Group F: Predicted finish
- (BDO) Glen Durrant (7/4, 8/15)
- Gerwyn Price (2/1, 4/7)
- Simon Whitlock (2/1, 4/7)
- Andrew Gilding (10/1, 7/2)
Two-time BDO world champion Glen Durrant is bidding to reach the knockout stages for the third time in a row and he's more than capable of doing so as group winner at 15/8.
The 47-year-old Teesider, who is still undecided over having a future crack at the PDC due to enjoying his job in housing, lost 16-10 to Peter Wright in last year's quarter-finals but since then won five tournaments including his second Lakeside crown and the prestigious World Trophy in June - although he recently lost the final of the World Masters despite averaging 99.
He picks and chooses his events but never seems to be rusty and certainly has the big match experience to deal with any of the PDC players in this group.
It's hard to call who out of Simon Whitlock or Gerwyn Price but the latter has won their last two meetings, including at the World Series of Darts Finals, so I'll go with the Iceman.
Group G: Predicted finish
- Mensur Suljovic (5/6, 1/4)
- Martin Schindler (9/2, 5/4)
- Stephen Bunting (7/2, 1/1)
- (BDO) Scott Mitchell (5/1, 11/8)
I'm putting Mensur Suljovic early exit at the World Series of Darts Finals down to the overwhelming pressure on him to deliver in front of his home fans in Austria rather than a worrying sign of form - so I'm expecting him to go through here as group winner.
Martin Schindler is one of the rising stars of the game and although he's yet to show it on the biggest stages, the 22-year-old insists he's playing the best darts of his young career.
He qualified for the Grand Slam of Darts and the World Youth Final on the same day, with the latter achievement also sealing his spot in Wolverhampton next year too.
This will be just his fourth appearance on TV since his World Championship debut but in a fairly soft group, expect him to impress.
Group H: Predicted finish
- Dimitri Van den Bergh (5/2, 4/7)
- Rob Cross (8/11, 1/4)
- (BDO) Mark McGeeney (7/1, 13/8)
- Ryan Searle (7/1, 7/4)
This is such a tough group to call and Rob Cross will really need to get his game together here if he's to safely progress.
Voltage will draw confidence from his 100% records against Ryan Searle (3-0) and Dimitri van den Bergh (4-0) although the latter could so easily of won their first meeting in last year's epic World Championship quarter-final.
Apart from reaching the German Darts Masters final, where he lost to Mensur Suljovic in front of a huge 20,000 crowd in Gelsenkirchen, Van den Bergh hasn't exactly ripped up trees this year but he has concentrated his efforts on the Development Tour while on Monday he booked his place in the World Youth Championship final against Martin Schindler later this month.
I reckon the reigning Youth champion is a spot of value to top this group at 10/3.
In an interview with yours truly after winning the Champions League of Darts, Gary Anderson said his primary target apart from the worlds was to win the Grand Slam of Darts for the first time in his incredible career.
He's landed his maiden UK Open, World Matchplay (making a nine-darter along the way!) and Champions League titles this year so he's clearly thriving on his mission to collect more of these big trophies.
Age isn't really on Anderson's side, especially with the growing number of talented youngsters rising through the ranks, but this extra pressure (if indeed he even feels it) has seen him rise to the occasion.
That's if he even feels this pressure such is his seemingly easy going attitude on the oche - except if it's against Daryl Gurney!
I wouldn't let his recent mini blip of form at the World Grand Prix and World Series of Darts Finals put you off - nobody is immune from a couple of off days and he'll be back on it in Wolverhampton.
He's not scared of MVG anyway, especially given he memorably won their last encounter at the Champions League, but he'll still be heartened by the fact so many other players have been knocking the Dutchman's confidence.
My other outright bet is to follow the same tactic as I did for the European Championship - backing anyone from the opposite half of the draw that MVG's in at 9/4.
Basically anyone from Group E down, including Peter Wright, Rob Cross, Mensur Suljovic and even Glen Durrant, who hopes to be only the second BDO champion of this event behind Scott Waites.
I've already explained why MVG is vulnerable at the top of this article and while I have backed Anderson, I still feel this represents a decent saver option.
Recommended bets: Grand Slam of Darts
2pts Gary Anderson to win the title at 11/2
1pt Winner to come from the bottom half at 9/4
1pt Schindler, Ratajski & Williams to qualify at 12.5/1
1pt Durrant & van den Bergh to win their groups at 11.43/1
0.5pts Robson, Schindler, Ratajski, Williams, Durrant & van den Bergh all to qualify at 110/1