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Baltic Sea Open preview: Draw hampers Luke Humphries in Kiel

A new tournament kicks off the 2023 European Tour schedule, the Baltic Sea Open, with Englishman Luke Humphries keen to continue the dazzling form he showed last year.

Humphries claimed four titles on the European Tour in 2022, joining Michael van Gerwen and Peter Wright to become only the third player to land four or more tournament wins in a single season.

His efforts saw his move up to joint fifth on the all-time list of European Tour title winners, with Wright second on seven victories and Van Gerwen way off in the distance at the top of the list with an incredible 35 successes.

And Van Gerwen will head into the action in Kiel on yet another high, having triumphed on Premier League Night Four in Dublin and warned afterwards: "I am not playing my top game at the moment. I know I can do a lot better."

WhatBaltic Sea Open
WhereWunderino Arena, Kiel, Germany
WhenFriday 24th February - Sunday 26th February
How to watchbet365 Sports Live Streaming, PDCTV
OddsMichael van Gerwen 3/1, Michael Smith 5/1, Gerwyn Price 11/2, Jonny Clayton 9/1, Peter Wright 9/1 

Humphries handed tricky draw

Given his most recent efforts on the European Tour, it may seem a little strange to see Humphries as far out as 16/1 to take the honours at the inaugural Baltic Sea Masters, however, the draw he has been handed may go some way to explaining that standing.

The top 16 seeds all have byes into the second round, where Humphries will play the winner of the first-round match between home favourite Gabriel Clemens and Daryl Gurney.

Humphries has started adequately in the Players Championship events, however, a shock first-round exit at the hands of Mario Vandenbogaerde last time out will not have helped his confidence, although he will be well-rested as he is not involved in the Premier League.

Van Gerwen ,3/1, may go into this tournament on a high, but he also faces a potentially tough opener, against either William O'Connor or former BDO world champion Stephen Bunting.

Meanwhile, 11/2 Price is seeded down at 11 in Kiel and this may become a factor if he makes progress, with the Welshman third on the all-time list with six European Tour titles to his name.

Seeded fifth, 9/1 Wright could not be heading to Germany in worse form, having yet to win a single match across the first four nights of Premier League action and his opening contest could hardly be more difficult.

He has been drawn to face the winner of the heavyweight first-round clash between James Wade and a rejuvenated Raymond van Barneveld, which is the highlight of what looks to be a fantastic evening of darts ahead on Friday in Kiel.

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Wonderful evening ahead at the Wunderino

Friday evening at the Wunderino Arena is jam-packed with top match-ups to look forward to, including with the meeting of O'Connor and Bunting, who reached the last eight at Players Championship 4 before losing out to eventual champion Dirk van Duijvenbode.

Bunting may be 1/2 to see off the Irishman and move on to face Van Gerwen, but O'Connor holds a 6-2 winning record across their previous eight meetings and is worthy of attention at 13/8.

Next on to the oche are 10/11 Richard Veenstra and home hope Florian Hempel, who looks set for a hard time against his Dutch opponent.

Veenstra has started well in the Players Championship and a run to the quarter-finals of tournament 2 included wins over Kim Huybrechts, Rob Cross and Bunting, before he was edged out in a final-leg thriller against Simon Whitlock.

Following that clash is the undoubted standout tie of the first round, as 4/5 Wade and 1/1 Van Barneveld meet for the 50th time, with their head-to-head record reading 24 wins for the Dutchman, 21 victories for Wade and four draws in the Premier League.

'Barney' has notched up wins over the likes of Chris Dobey, Danny Noppert and Adrian Lewis in the Players Championship this season, while Wade has also been in consistent form - including a 6-3 win over potential second-round opponent Wright at Players Championship 2.

There's no let-up after the clash of the titans, with the home fans certain to be doing their best to roar 'German Giant' Clemens to victory over Gurney.

Clemens, 10/11 to see off Gurney, made a huge breakthrough in reaching the 2023 World Championship semi-finals and recently showed that he is still in good from by reaching the final of Players Championship 3.

Gurney is battling to find the sort of form which saw him win the World Grand Prix back in 2017, but he will hardly be enthused by six defeats in seven previous meetings with Clemens.

Rounding off the action on Friday is a meeting of two former world champions as Steve Beaton and Lewis both hope to progress to a showdown with seventh seed Nathan Aspinall.

Lewis is heavily fancied at 4/9 to see off 7/4 Beaton and a run of having won all nine meetings of the two players over the last decade certainly gives plenty of evidence that that is a reasonable assumption.

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