Our darts tipster Chris Hammer previews the Boylesports World Grand Prix, which begins in Dublin on Sunday night, and has five bets to consider.
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Recommended Bets: World Grand Prix
- 0.5pt e.w. Joe Cullen to win the World Grand Prix at 100/1
- 0.5pt e.w. Dave Chisnall to win the World Grand Prix at 50/1
- 1pt James Wade to win the first quarter at 9/2
- 1pt Joe Cullen to win the second quarter at 10/1
- 1pt Krzysztof Ratajski to win the third quarter at 12/1
- 1pt Dave Chisnall to win the fourth quarter at 6/1
It's that time of year for all darts fans to start getting a bit giddy, with five televised events taking place over the next couple of months before the show-stopping World Championship brings what has so far been an absorbing season to its climax.
The first stop is Dublin for the World Grand Prix, which you'll hear virtually everyone claim is as wide open as ever due to not only the well renowned "upset-ability" of its double-start and set play format but also because so many players have proven capable of winning titles and causing upsets in 2019.
Defending champion and favourite Michael van Gerwen tops the table as usual when it comes to silverware, winning 10 of the the 27 tournaments he's entered, including the Masters and Premier League, although he's 'only' managed to triumph in two of his last 12 - the World Series Events in Melbourne and New Zealand - and has lost three finals.
In total there have been 23 different winners of PDC events and that number could be even higher when you consider that there have been 15 other winless players beaten in finals.
MVG, who has never retained his title here following his other triumphs in 2012, 2014 and 2016, James Wade and Daryl Gurney are the only three players in the field who know what it's like to win it so it's going to be no surprise whatsoever if there's a new name on the trophy next Saturday.
I'll run through my picks to win each quarter of the draw before picking my outright selections.
James Wade to win the quarter at 9/2
- (1) Michael van Gerwen v Jamie Hughes
- Jeffrey de Zwaan v Steve Beaton
- (8) James Wade v John Henderson
- Mervyn King v Dimitri Van den Bergh
It goes without saying that MVG is odds-on to get through this quarter but I certainly won't be alone in thinking Jamie Hughes can spring a shock on his tournament debut.
The Tipton thrower has taken the PDC by storm since earning his Tour Card at Q School in January and won his maiden title at the Czech Darts Open which saw him qualify for the World Matchplay at the very last opportunity.
Since his 10-7 defeat to eventual runner-up Michael Smith in Blackpool, he reached a Pro Tour semi-final last month that he lost in a deciding leg to Dave Chisnall so he's not short of recent form heading to Dublin.
You can't blame the bookies for pricing him up at 16/1 in this quarter but you could go even bolder with big John Henderson at 22/1!
The popular Scotsman's only televised semi-final appearance came here two years ago when he knocked out van Gerwen in the opening round before backing it up with two more wins until running into Gurney.
Henderson's Premier League draw with MVG on 'that' night in Aberdeen remains my darting highlight of the season and there's no doubt he'll have the crowd on his side when he meets two-time champion James Wade.
Realistically, The Machine has the game that suits this unique major but despite winning it twice and being runner-up in 2014, he's been knocked out in the first round in four successive years.
However this time 12 months ago he'd yet to begin his incredible revival which saw him win back-to-back TV titles at the European Championship and World Series of Darts Finals while this season he's won five Pro Tour events, reached the Masters final and five semi-finals that were all televised and/or on the stage environment.
Wade's form and confidence combining with his natural game is potentially dangerous for his rivals so I wouldn't put anyone off backing him at 25/1 for the title - but 9/2 for the quarter is where I'd start.
Joe Cullen to win the quarter at 10/1
- (5) Michael Smith v Simon Whitlock
- Joe Cullen v Ian White
- (4) Gary Anderson v Keegan Brown
- Ricky Evans v Chris Dobey
Can Gary Anderson finally add the World Grand Prix to his glittering CV? Could Michael Smith finally break his major duck in Dublin? Will we see Ian White finally handle the pressure of a televised tournament?
They are the three major questions most people are asking about the players in this quarter but mine focuses on Joe Cullen and whether he can finally emerge as a world beater.
Anyone who has read my previews for over a year may remember I was guilty of sticking by the Rockstar for several tournaments like a dog with a bone in 2018 but decided to go cold turkey after his disastrous World Championship. It was a wise move.
That Ally Pally annihilation at the hands of journeyman Brendan Dolan, in which he missed 16 of his 17 darts at doubles, clearly affected him in the first half of the season and just when he was starting to get his confidence back, he got humiliated 10-0 by White in the first round of the World Matchplay, missing all 10 of his doubles.
Those are not the kind of experiences you need when heading into a major that needs iron mental strength more than any other but last month there may well have been a huge breakthrough moment in Cullen's career.
Playing in his maiden ranking final on a stage environment at the European Darts Matchplay, the Bradford man brought the Mannheim crowd to their feet with a 170 checkout in the seventh leg to move 5-2 up and again when clinching an 8-5 victory over van Gerwen with a finish from 88 to complete a match-winning 14-darter.
Cullen averaged 101.3 in the final compared to MVG's 100.18 and crucially pinned eight of his 17 attempts at doubles as his opponent spurned 12 of his 17.
Cullen's post-match interview, in which he claimed he wasn't even nervous when aiming at the winning double, suggested he must believe in himself a lot more now - further helped by the fact he hit it.
The 30-year-old, who has shown us plenty of flashes of his potential in the past such as those stunning runs at last year's World Matchplay and European Championship, couldn't have asked for a better time to end his two-year wait for a third PDC crown and I really feel he's a value pick at 100/1 each-way for the title and 10/1 for the quarter.
His first assignment is against the man who thrashed him 10-0 at the World Matchplay so if he can overcome those mental demons, then expect him to go far at a venue where he has only managed a single win across three previous stagings.
Krzysztof Ratajski to win the quarter at 12/1
- (2) Rob Cross v Mensur Suljovic
- Glen Durrant v Krzysztof Ratajski
- (7) Peter Wright v Max Hopp
- Adrian Lewis v Jermaine Wattimena
This is a very tough section to call and while you can never expect any easy matches in an elite 32-man major, Rob Cross has got to feel a bit hard done by with this draw.
If the World Matchplay champion is to go all the way then his route to the final could read something like this: Suljovic, Durrant, Wright, Gurney and MVG!
Considering he's never won a match here in two previous outings, that's quite a mountain to climb even for a player of his standards.
Should he get past Mensur Suljovic, I'm finding it tough to predict his next opponent out of Glen Durrant and Krzysztof Ratajski given what superb seasons they've both enjoyed.
Duzza has won two titles as well as so memorably beating MVG en route to reaching the World Matchplay semi-finals while the Polish Eagle has claimed three, including the recent Gibraltar Darts Trophy that was his first on a PDC stage environment.
It was a big moment in Ratasjki's career because as much as pundits and fans marvelled at his obvious talents, we were beginning to question if he had what it takes to deliver his best surrounded by a true atmosphere.
Last year's runner-up Peter Wright has found ruthless consistency in the second half of the season, winning those three tournaments in a row prior to reaching the quarter-finals in Blackpool, and since then he's made four semi-finals on the circuit.
You could make a strong case for any of the players I've mentioned but I'm going to give the nod to Ratajski at the very big price of 12/1.
- (6) Gerwyn Price v Dave Chisnall
- Stephen Bunting v Jonny Clayton
- (3) Daryl Gurney v Danny Noppert
- Vincent van der Voort v Nathan Aspinall
There are four players in this bottom section who will have their fair share of backers when it comes to picking the champion - Gerwyn Price, Dave Chisnall, Daryl Gurney and Nathan Aspinall.
Grand Slam of Darts champion Price put himself on a few extra radars when he won his fourth title of the season in Dublin on Friday while he also as warmed up his vocal chords despite the quiet surroundings of a floor tournament!
The Welshman proved he can cause controversy in an almost empty room but that should take little away from the character he showed to inflict Ratajski's first ever defeat in a final having earlier blown a 6-1 lead to trail 7-6.
First up he'll meet Dave Chisnall, who is of course seeking the first televised title of his illustrious and crowd-pleasing career.
The World Grand Prix is one of the four different PDC majors that Chizzy has reached the final in - back in 2013 - but since then he's only got past the last eight once.
However the popular St Helens thrower has enjoyed a resurgence this season, which he began by winning his first tournament since 2017 before claiming another two including the Danish Darts Open on the European Tour.
He raised the roof at the Gibraltar Darts Trophy when nailing his third nine-darter of the season and 11th of his career and although he ended the tournament as runner-up, he must be feeling in a great place right now.
For a major which requires more mental strength than most to conqueror, you might think it strange to back a player with a history of blowing his chances on the televised stage and having the label 'choker' thrown at him.
But given how well Chizzy is playing, maybe this is all about to change. At last.
Gurney has quite the opposite reputation to Chizzy insofar as he saves his best performances for the big occasions, including the 2017 final here when claiming the first of his two televised majors.
The second - when he beat Michael van Gerwen in the 2018 Players Championship Finals - was even more impressive while he's continued to build on those successes by landing two more titles this season including his maiden triumph on the European Tour.
The Northern Irishman, who also reached the Premier League semi-finals for the first time, still leads players, pundits and fans down a dark alley when it comes to his mental strength.
He frequently mentions how he lacks belief in his ability but time and time again he proves himself wrong.
Gurney showed nerves of steel in an epic World Matchplay quarter-final against Wright although he did blow this theory out of the water during his meltdown against Cross in the last four.
Over the past two stagings of the World Grand Prix, where he reached the semi-finals as defending champion last year, he boasts the highest double in percentage of 53.61% and obviously the key to success in this major is to get off to a fast start.
One of the biggest dangers he'll probably face early doors is UK Open champion Nathan Aspinall, who has continued to enjoy a brilliant season since that memorable weekend in Minehead by landing the US Darts Masters and reaching two other PDC finals.
This will be his debut in Dublin following a rapid rise up the rankings and maybe his lack of experience of the format will give Gurney the edge in a potential second-round meeting.