The 2023 Cazoo World Darts Championship takes place at the Alexandra Palace from December 15-January 3, live on Sky Sports, and our tipster Chris Hammer brings you his preview and best bets.
2pts Michael Smith to win the World Championship at 8/1 (Unibet, Betfred)
2pts Peter Wright to win the World Championship at 11/1 (BetVictor, Coral, Betfred)
1pt e.w. Dave Chisnall to win the World Championship at 40/1 (General, 1/2 1, 2)
1pt Ryan Searle to win the first quarter at 10/1 (bet365, William Hill, BetVictor)
1pt Chris Dobey to win the fourth quarter at 14/1 (General)
Dartmas is almost here to own the festive sporting calendar once again – especially after the World Cup concludes – and there's no doubt we'll be treated to three more weeks of drama, tension, fairytale runs and shocks at possibly the most wide-open World Championship in history.
You could have said the same ahead of most editions in recent times but this year we've seen a whopping 24 different winners across the 58 PDC events staged, with Michael van Gerwen landing 10 of them.
That's by far the most MVG has managed since he used to win around 20 titles per year between 2015 and 2019, so from that perspective he might be about to enjoy a second wind of domination in a remarkable career and end up making this tournament look like a 'closed' shop – but he's still the first to admit it's much harder to land the top prizes than ever before.
"It's different times now and you can't really compare winning 10 titles with 25. The circumstances have changed and you can lose to more players these days. I don't really call anyone a rival at the moment because there are loads of good players who you can lose to. Michael Smith, Joe Cullen, Jonny Clayton, Peter Wright, Gerwyn Price – there's loads!"
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All those names he mentioned in a recent interview are just the tip of the iceberg really when you consider Danny Noppert and Ross Smith also became maiden major winners this year, Luke Humphries won five other titles while Nathan Aspinall, Dave Chisnall, Rob Cross and Dirk van Duivenbode all reached big finals.
It speaks volumes that the list of popular contenders in the betting for the world title also includes a player that hardly anyone had heard of 12 months ago in Josh Rock!
Aside from all these title winners eyeing the biggest of the lot, we've also got Raymond van Barneveld joining Steve Beaton in reaching 30+ world championship appearances – and does so as a seeded player thanks to his Grand Slam heroics – while there's three women featuring in the tournament for the first time, and a record 22 debutants!
The only thing we're missing is Paul Lim!
Here, I’ll work my way through each quarter in search of value for world championship glory and/or to reach the semi-finals…
Odds to win the quarter: Price 11/10, Noppert 9/2, Wade 13/2, Searle 9/1, Gurney 12/1, Van Barneveld 12/1, de Sousa 14/1, Whitlock 22/1, Soutar 33/1, Clemens 40/1, Greaves 66/1, Woodhouse 66/1, 80/1 bar
If you asked Gerwyn Price to grade his season he'd probably not go much higher than a B- but his title haul of five, including the World Series of Darts Finals, would go down as A* for the vast majority of players on tour.
But the Iceman isn't in the majority, and judges himself by the highest standards. Price has 'only' managed to reach one other major final this year – the World Matchplay – and since then has failed to 'find a way' to win enough close matches on the biggest stages. A trait he's usually so good at producing when it matters.
Raymond van Barneveld, who beat him twice at the Grand Slam, is a potential third-round opponent while his other chief threats in this section – Ryan Searle, James Wade and Danny Noppert – have all won titles this season.
Although Noppert broke his major duck by landing the UK Open back in March and will be a popular second favourite in this first quarter, I feel Searle is actually the best value call at 10/1.
The Somerset thrower loves this stage having reached the fourth round in three of his last four appearances – including the 2021 and 2022 editions – and comes to the Ally Pally in great shape having produced a string of high-quality displays at the Players Championship Finals.
He averaged around 100 in his opening two wins before he was denied by Dirk van Duijvenbode 10-9 in an absolute classic that could so easily have gone the other way despite the Dutchman's 112 average.
Searle reached three Pro Tour finals in the first few months of 2022, winning one of them, and although he hasn't repeated the feat since and endured a rough run of form in September and October, his performance levels have picked up again and his seasonal average of 96.07 is second only to Price's 97.44 in this section of the draw. For context, Noppert's is 95.44, de Sousa is 94.75 and Wade is 93.53.
Unless Price finds his bulletproof aura again, Searle can take the next big step in his blossoming career – 12 months after Peter Wright branded him the 'future of darts'.
I can't move onto the next section without mentioning Beau Greaves and the likelihood of her emulating Fallon Sherrock and becoming the second woman to beat a man on the Ally Pally stage.
The 18-year-old sensation scooped eight consecutive Women’s Series titles between August and October thanks to a remarkable winning streak of 52 matches to seal her PDC World Championship debut, while she also averaged over 90 in 16 matches and even recorded a women’s record of 107.86 during one of her final victories over Fallon Sherrock.
Quite incredible when you think she's so young and had to battle with dartitis a few years ago, but can she beat Willie O'Connor? If she players to her A-game then she's certainly got a great chance but let's not forget she hasn't played over such a long format against a seasoned campaigner like O'Connor before.
She'll need the crowd on her side and it'll be interesting to see how the Irishman, who has averaged 92 for the season and reached a solitary European Tour final, fares at being the villain on such a big stage – a role he's never played before.
I rate her chances slightly stronger than Lisa Ashton, who is bidding for her first win at the fourth attempt on this stage against Ryan Meikle. She's lost 17 of her 18 matches in PDC majors and that's probably too much of a mental block to overcome, while Meikle has enjoyed one of his best seasons so far, and comes into this tournament with a healthy seasonal average of 92.15.
Odds to win the quarter: Smith 13/8, Humphries 9/4, Chisnall 6/1, Cullen 13/2, Heta 7/1, Schindler 33/1, Lewis 33/1, Menzies 33/1, Gilding 40/1, Bunting 50/1, Hempel 66/1, 80/1 bar
Michael Smith can finally head into a World Championship as a major winner and will be supremely confident of blowing open those floodgates with the biggest trophy of the lot.
Bully Boy ended his mental blocking run of nine major final defeats in style at last month's Grand Slam of Darts and although there was a slight hangover at the Players Championship Finals a week later, expect him to be firing on all cylinders again at the Ally Pally.
Apart from achieving his long-awaited triumph in Wolverhampton, Smith had already enjoyed his best ever calendar year in a career that has promised so much, winning six titles overall (a tally only bettered by MVG) including the televised US Darts Masters at Madison Square Garden and reaching three other major finals – the World Championship, UK Open and European Championship.
Obviously, lifting that Grand Slam title in response to those finals setbacks against Wright, Danny Noppert and Ross Smith respectively changes how we view those runs. Now it just looks like he's had a consistently great season, whereas before we'd have been dwelling on how he couldn't get himself over the finishing line on the big stages.
Statistically his seasonal average of 96.83 is eighth highest – behind MVG (98.43), Rock (97.75), Heta (97.62), Humphries (97.57), Price (97.44), Wright (97.42) and van Duivenbode (97.26) – but it's the way he's been 'finding a way' to win scrappy games that have impressed us the most.
He admitted during the Grand Slam that there were some matches he'd have lost a year or so ago – and his terrific performance to beat Joe Cullen was testament to that and will one day be looked at as the turning point in his career. He trailed 15-13 but despite huge pressure, he lifted his game to a level that didn't even allow the Rockstar a match dart as he won the last three legs to progress.
Regular readers will probably groan to see me put up Smith for the third tournament in a row but he does tick so many boxes now; seasonal form, recent form, major wins, positive Ally Pally experience, and ability to produce sky high standards under pressure.
However, I do want to include a bigger price hopeful in this section to capitalise if Smith falters.
This certainly isn't the first time Dave Chisnall has appeared in my staking plans and it probably won't be the last – but I can assure you it's born out of evidence rather than blind faith that he finally wins a major.
After a fairly mediocre first half of the season – apart from reaching the Masters final back in January – Chizzy burst into life over the past few months by claiming two titles, including one on the European Tour, while he'd also won 25 of his last 33 matches prior to the Grand Slam of Darts and Players Championship Finals.
His level of performances made him a genuine candidate for both but a highly unfortunate defeat to Gerwyn Price ended his Grand Slam challenge while he somehow lost to Scott Williams in the latter event despite averaging 10 points higher with 103.
Chisnall thrives at the Alexandra Palace, reaching the semi-finals back in 2021 when he famously thrashed Michael van Gerwen 5-0 with one of the finest displays ever seen on that stage, while he also reached the quarters in 2017 and 2019.
Statistically he's almost in the top 10 for averages across all competitions this season (96.50) and remains one of the most prolific 180 hitters on the planet with a 0.35 per leg ratio this year – second only to van Duijvenbode's ridiculous 0.38.
He also has that added benefit of not overthinking too much – as demonstrated here.
Joking aside, there wouldn't be a more popular winner with the crowd and I really feel he's a good value each-way call for glory.
Luke Humphries will be many people's pick in this quarter, especially after reaching the semi-finals of the last two major tournaments, and while he wasn't particularly explosive from a statistical point of view during the Grand Slam, he certainly upped his levels at the Players Championship Finals.
He comfortably averaged over 100 in three of his matches before he was soundly put to the sword by MVG and if he meets Chizzy in the fourth round then we should be in for some fireworks.
Additionally, a quick note on Martin Schindler. I think his price to come through this quarter is fair when you think he'll probably have to upset the odds to beat Smith, Cullen or Heta and then Chisnall or Humphries – but if you do want a big outsider to follow in this section then he's your player.
I've flagged him up in previous previews, acknowledging that nerves or pressure on the big stage are frustratingly holding him back from performing to the levels he shows away from the TV cameras.
He should have qualified from his Grand Slam of Darts group but choked at the finishing line against Rob Cross but picked up a couple of good wins at the Players Championship Finals to grow his confidence and if he can beat a player like Smith early on, then we might see him finally release the shackles.
Fallon Sherrock is the third female player in action and regardless of what you think of her controversial inclusion, there's no doubt she'll have the Ally Pally crowd firmly on her side when she steps onto the oche.
The universally popular Ricky Evans is certainly not used to being booed and whistled so it'll be interesting to see how he deals with such an atmosphere on a stage he's enjoyed several crowd-pleasing moments.
Evans hasn't enjoyed his best season by any means, qualifying for just two other majors and suffering a first-round exit at the recent Players Championship Finals with a low 90s average, which is pretty par for his year.
Sherrock hasn't been happy with her year either but if she can produce a 90s average like we know she can on her day, then she has more than a fighting chance of pulling off another big shock.
Odds to win the quarter: Wright 15/8, Clayton 10/3, Rock 4/1, Van den Bergh 9/2, Aspinall 13/2, Rydz 22/1, Ratajski 22/1, Dolan 33/1, van Trijp 66/1, Huybrechts 66/1, 100/1 bar
Has a defending champion ever arrived at the Ally Pally so under the radar as Peter Wright?
Despite being within touching distance of world number one Gerwyn Price on the Order of Merit, Snakebite finds himself as fourth favourite to become just the fourth different player to successfully defend the Sid Waddell Trophy – while he hasn't been as big as 11/1 since before he lifted it for the first time back in January 2020.
Much of the lack of hype is down to the fact he's suffered early exits five majors – including a shock group stage exit at the Grand Slam of Darts when his mind was obviously preoccupied with the health of his wife Jo and he subsequently withdrew from the Players Championship Finals.
Even when Wright did enjoy a deep run to the World Grand Prix semi-finals, it ended with a humiliating 4-0 defeat to Michael van Gerwen which lingers more in the memory than his victories to get that far, while other disappointments include finishing fifth in the Premier League and the manner of his World Matchplay quarter-final defeat to Dimitri Van den Bergh.
There have been too many lacklustre performances that undo the work of his premium darts and you wonder if he's currently lacking the consistency needed to go all the way once again.
That said, it was 'only' 12 months ago when he was that good while his seasonal average of 97.42 is still comfortably inside the top 10.
He's picked up a couple of titles – albeit one of them being way back in February – and reached the last couple of his six finals since October, so it's not as if he's drastically out of form. And part of the mid-season blip was partly down to his own health problems with gallstones.
I interviewed Wright this week and he's genuinely in a much better place now that Jo is out of hospital, while he says her recovery has been a real weight off his mind following a really tough month or so. Don't forget, they are effectively a team and she's been a priceless pillar of support for him throughout his career, so it's no wonder he stepped away from competition.
He wore a comical Santa hat during the interview while Jo chipped in to say the standard of his costumes might be 'crap because I designed them on my death bed'! Not something I thought I'd write in a betting preview but never underestimate the importance of a sports person being happy and relaxed away from their arena of work.
The 52-year-old also admitted he has absolutely no problem with being fourth favourite and prefers being the underdog, whereas we know certain other players in a similar situation would be distracted with the notion of 'proving people wrong' or feeling disrespected.
Former house-mate Dimitri Van den Bergh, who briefly turned from friend to foe during the World Matchplay, and Krzysztof Ratajski are his major rivals in his sub section but neither come into the World Championship with a wealth of recent or seasonal form.
In fact Van den Bergh has lost 14 of his last 22 matches in all competitions, while Ratajski is on a similarly poor run over the past couple of months.
If Wright reaches the quarters then he's probably going to be coming up against Jonny Clayton, Nathan Aspinall or rising star Josh Rock.
Clayton has endured a rather uneventful year without a ranking title and even when reaching the semi-finals of the Players Championship Finals last month, he never averaged higher than 96.
Aspinall has enjoyed a resurgence in the winter, reaching the finals of both the World Grand Prix and Grand Slam of Darts, but the lack of explosive performances of 100+ averages means he finds himself fifth favourite in this quarter. It's almost as if the bookies and punters prioritise averages over winning matches on the big stage.
Rock's seasonal average of 97.75 is second only to Michael van Gerwen, who he famously hit a nine-darter against in their thrilling Grand Slam of Darts clash last month in which he also averaged 104, but obviously that's heavily weighted to floor events in comparison to the other big names.
The World Youth champion has only played in four major tournaments – suffering early defeats in three of them and bowing out in the second round of the Grand Slam after an impressive group stage – and while he has no fear or battle scars and possesses plenty of enthusiasm, he still lacks experience of high-octane darts at the very highest level and I feel that will be crucial if he ends up in a best-of-nine set quarter-final against a player of Wright's calibre.
A world champion of the future for sure but perhaps too early this year.
Odds to win the quarter: MVG 8/13, Cross 5/1, van Duijvenbode 11/2, Anderson 10/1, Smith 11/1, Dobey 12/1, Joyce 33/1, Suljovic 50/1, King 50/1, Williams 66/1, 80/1 bar
For reasons already alluded to, Michael van Gerwen is unsurprisingly odds-on to come through this section and a very short price to lift his fourth Sid Waddell Trophy.
Not only had he won 10 titles this season including the Premier League, World Matchplay, World Grand Prix and the recent Players Championship Finals in breathtaking fashion but his seasonal average of 98.43 across all competitions is top by quite some distance from Josh Rock (97.75).
His title haul is made more impressive by the fact that he missed 20 of this year's 30 Players Championship events in order to stay fresher for other events in a packed schedule – a strategy that worked a treat.
It's very tough to call whether it'll be Dirk van Duijvenbode or Ross Smith to meet him for a place in the quarter-finals due to both having fantastic seasons behind them with lots of superb performances in recent weeks and months. The only guarantee will be A LOT of 180s.
Smith, who has become a different animal since landing his maiden major at the European Championship, stunned MVG in a Grand Slam of Darts group-stage thriller in which he incredibly threw a maximum in each of the nine legs but could he maintain a high level in a much longer format against a rampant MVG?
Van Duijvenbode has won a couple of titles this year and was unfortunate to lose the climax of the World Series of Darts Finals against Gerwyn Price on a deciding leg – but he's only beaten MVG once in nine meetings and if he's got a mental block about that, he may need his fellow Dutchman to be taken out by someone else.
In the bottom half of this section, I feel the only value comes in the shape of Chris Dobey at a best price of 14/1 in places.
The Northumberland man is clear third favourite to come through his mini section behind Rob Cross and Gary Anderson but statistically he's not far behind either, with a seasonal averages of 95.58 compared to 96.58 and 95.70 respectively, while he's been churching out a lot of wins in the second half of 2022 despite not turning his form into titles.
Dobey played very well in reaching the World Grand Prix quarter-finals, where he suffered at the hands of an inspired MVG, but he would get his revenge over the world number three for the first time in his career at the European Championship.
He went on to reach the semi-finals thanks to a sparkling display against Dave Chisnall before losing to eventual champion Ross Smith and overall will feel bullish about another impressive Ally Pally run.
Dobey has reached the fourth round in three of the last four years, losing 4-3 thrillers on each occasion, so maybe it's about time he comes out the right side of these kind of games.
Anderson is clearly not the player of old but Cross won't be short of support considering he's won two Pro Tour titles since August and maintained his run of making a major final in every year he's been a pro at the recent Players Championship Finals.
Whoever comes through it would ideally need MVG to get knocked out in a shorter format match if they're to reach the semi-finals, but if not, at least Dobey has now broken his losing streak.
Michael Smith is, in my eyes, the most likely challenger to Michael van Gerwen so has to go into my staking plan as the 8/1 third favourite.
In the bottom section, Peter Wright clearly has the game to make the bookies look silly having lifted this trophy twice in the last three stagings and there have been mitigating circumstances surrounding some of his dips in form this year.
You can make a case for so many players at big odds making a run to the final but ultimately you've got to focus on those that have made a habit of winning titles this year, have good form in recent months and also have an encouraging track records at the Ally Pally.
Dave Chisnall is a much bigger price compared to the others who tick those boxes and that's why he's my value outsider.