The Christmas tree is up, the wrapping paper is bought and the Pogues has been on the radio that many times it feels like Shane MacGowan is sat in your living room chain-smoking and offending your Nan. For many people that means it is almost time for an overweight man to break into your house through your chimney, but for darts fans it’s all about several overweight men taking centre stage at the Alexandra Palace.
The World Championship is back and Phil Taylor is aiming for a record-breaking 17th crown. Cleverly the bosses at the PDC rank the tournament meaning that, in theory, the best four players in the world should make it to the semi-finals. This is all well and good for us come the last week of December, but it does prove a stumbling block for punters in round one.
Backing Phil Taylor to win his opening game at 1/200 might be a sure bet, but the 10p profit you get back off a £20 stake isn’t going to go very far.
Luckily we’ve taken five of the heavily backed round one favourites and crunched their World Champ statistics to make up an 18/1 accumulator.
Phil Taylor v Rob Szabo or Ian Moss
Szabo is a player from New Zealand who Taylor says he has never heard of. Well he should have done, after all Szabo is the DPNZ Capital Open REG Winner. Ian Moss got through about 200 other darts hopefuls in Barnsley to get to this stage and will be making his debut on the biggest stage.
Taylor doesn’t appear to go easy on anybody in the sport, and in the last 10 years has won every first round game without dropping a set, apart from one. That was his opening match in 2008 when an 18-year-old kid called Michael van Gerwen took him to a decider. Barring that one-off, Taylor tends to hit the ground running at the Ally Pally and we fancy him to win comfortably.
Raymond van Barneveld v Jamie Lewis
Barney suffered a shock exit in round one two years ago, but apart from that blip he rarely has any trouble. The Dutchman has dropped just one set in six of his first round wins and we fancy him to see off Jamie Lewis without dropping a leg. Last year the five-time champ set a benchmark in round one averaging 108 as he demolished Michael Smith.
Jamie Lewis is making his World Champs TV debut this year and has tour victories against Kevin Painter, Robert Thornton and two-time champ ‘Jackpot’ Adrian Lewis to his name. Unfortunately though, Barney’s experience on the big stage, his explosive form at this stage last year and a few nerves from young Lewis might put paid to the promising youngsters chances.
Michael van Gerwen v Zoran Lerchbacher or Ben Ward
According to the world wide web, Austrian Zoran Lerchbacher started playing darts in 2007 and so far has career earnings of near £3,960 which is fairly appalling. Ben Ward says on his Twitter feed he is a ‘Future World Champion’ but he also says he is a Dorchester Town fan and everyone knows how those lads exaggerate the truth.
Van Gerwen is the world number two, this year’s Premier League winner and last year’s World Championship finalist. Mighty Mike destroyed Paul Lim 3-0 in this round 12 months ago and we fancy him to do the same again this week.
Adrian Lewis v Dennis Smith
Two-time champion of the world Adrian Lewis loves the Ally Pally. His quarter-final defeat to van Gerwen last year was heralded as one of the games of the tournament and he comes into this year’s event off the back of his best ever TV average – 111. That was in the semifinal of the Grand Slam of Darts against Phil Taylor and is statistically the highest quality darts match ever played.
However, Lewis does not make it easy for himself in round one historically. Not including matches when he plays a preliminary winner, Lewis has conceded at least one leg in four of his six wins. Dennis Smith has made 15 appearances at the World Champs and although he is nowhere near his best, when he met Taylor in the 2000 semi-final, he could still pinch a set off Jackpot.
James Wade v Darren Webster
James ‘The Machine’ Wade has never won darts’ greatest prize, but he is a certainty to start the tournament well. In the last six years he has notched up four 3-0 victories and two 3-1 wins in his six first round games.
Darren Webster is in property maintenance by day, but he has made three appearances at the Ally Pally and reached the quarter-finals in 2007. Saying that, Webster’s best darting days are behind him and Wade’s excellent first round form should continue.