The year 2018 is barely out of nappies as yet, and it has already provided what you suspect might be a revolutionary moment in world darts.
Rob Cross, in his debut year as a professional, made a mockery of his lowly ranking to win the World Championship at Alexandra Palace on New Year’s Day; and in doing so ended Phil Taylor’s career and, perhaps, wrestled control of world darts away from the best in the business, Michael van Gerwen.
Cross’ ascension provides a fascinating narrative to any pub darter looking to earn their ‘big break’, and it also suggests that the year ahead could be a fascinating one as he battles for dominance with the other folically-challenged titan of tungsten tossing: MVG.
Their first meeting since the Worlds may well take place at the first ranking tournament of 2018: the World Masters, which will be hosted by Milton Keynes’ Arena MK from January 26th to 28th.
This is an elite-level tournament in that only the top-16 on the Order of Merit are invited, although points for that calculation are accumulated over a 12-month period; hence why a number of players in the field here are hardly in the best of form.
Thus, the Masters is a fantastic event for punters to sink their fangs into….but where does the smart value lie?
Revenge on Van Gerwen’s Mind
The reason why Michael van Gerwen is one of the greatest sportsmen around, in addition to the fact he is an absolute master of his craft, is the fact he hates losing. Just look at the interviews he gives after a defeat: he’s humble and often full of praise for an opponent, but the hurt and frustration is barely concealed.
It is a trait that has ultimately led him to the summit of world darts, and is a factor in why he keeps winning silverware even though he has no more room in his trophy cabinet. The hunger has never diminished.
And indeed, with Cross momentarily perhaps taking the spotlight, MVG has arguably never been hungrier to dish out some revenge in the way he best knows how.
The pressure will be on the world champion this term as the new face of darts, and it will be interesting to see how he copes with it. His consistency hints at a man who can become a winning machine like Van Gerwen, but it would be utterly forgivable if he has a slow start to the season given his life-changing achievement of just a few weeks ago.
One man who rarely starts the year slowly is MVG: he’s won this event for three years on the spin now. That, coupled with his typical hot form in the Premier League, suggests that Mighty Mike is aware of the importance of getting off to a good start.
Cross’ emergence is great news for punters: it means Van Gerwen is not a ridiculously short odds-on price to win the Masters. You can get 4/5 with most sportsbooks, and that seems more than fair in what is fairly flaccid field apart from Cross and perhaps Gary Anderson.
Barney Rediscovers His Appetite
Most bookmakers are offering each way value to two places, meaning that we can make some cash even if our pick loses in the final.
Naturally, we’re looking for a player on the other side of the draw to MVG and Anderson, and while Cross and Peter Wright are the obvious candidates there is far more value to be had in having an each way flutter on Raymond van Barneveld at 33/1.
The Dutchman has appeared at peace with himself of late, with the slightly soft mentality (turning to his glasses during bouts of poor form) seemingly a thing of the past.
And that’s handy, because on his day Barney can still give as good as he gets.
He looked imperious at the Worlds, cruising through to the quarter-finals before going down 4-5 to MVG.
Van Barneveld is a former Masters finalist, so has good memories of this event, and announced very early in January that he had split with his old management team to move to pastures new, stating that “I am convinced more success [sic] will come from this”. Only time will tell on that, but we’re certainly willing to put our money where his mouth is, if that makes sense.
Barney will start his assault on the title with a last 16 tie against out-of-form Dave Chisnall, before a potential meeting with either Wright or Alan ‘Chuck’ Norris in the quarter finals.