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Players Championship 1 & 2 preview: Barnsley beckons for start of ProTour marathon

It's day one of a new year for the rank and file of the PDC Tour with the first two Players Championship events taking place in Barnsley this weekend.

Most of the Tour's big stars will be joined by many of the game's lesser lights and recent Q-School graduates for the first two of 30 events which make up the 2023 Players Championship calendar.

What:Players Championship 1 & 2
Where: Barnsley Metrodome, Barnsley
When: Saturday 11th - Sunday 12th February
Odds (Players Championship 1):Michael van Gerwen 11/2, Michael Smith 15/2, Peter Wright 11/1, Nathan Aspinall 16/1

It's the bread and butter of the PDC ProTour and what the Players Championship events lack in crowds and TV exposure they more than make up for in drama and tension.

These are the tournaments, 30 of them in total throughout the year, which are gold dust for the majority of Tour card holders who don't get to play in the Premier League, the Matchplay or the Grand Slam.

There is a £12,000 winner's cheque on offer at each one and precious ranking points while the top 64 at the end of the year will head off to Minehead at the end of November for the £600,000 Players Championship Finals.

So while the Barnsley Metrodome on a cold Saturday afternoon in February might not be Ally Pally at Christmas, it's the first step on a journey that could lead to fame and riches by the end of the year.

MVG heads the Barnsley field

Michael van Gerwen, who won the Players Championship Finals in November, will be among the men to beat in South Yorkshire.

Hot-footing it to Barnsley from Cardiff where he reached the semi-finals in Thursday night's Premier League action, MVG boasts a formidable record in these floor events.

He was a two-time Pro Tour winner last year and has won an astonishing 33 of these events since his first success way back in 2009, when he was just 20-years-old.

Seven of the current Premier League cohort will be in Barnsley, the odd one out is Thursday night's winner Gerwyn Price, who has decided not to travel up for either half of the double-header.

What it means is that there are still a stack of world-class players lying in wait for the recent Q School graduates and the other lower-ranked players who make up the 128-man field.

And they all know that reputations can be made in these competitions. Last year's winners, for example, included Scott Williams, currently ranked 57 in the world, Keegan Brown at 66 and 73rd-ranked Danny Jansen.

So the likes of Cameron Crabtree, Callum Goffin, Robbie Knops and dozens of other underdogs will be dreaming Saturday could be their day.

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Cool Hand a threat after Premier League snub

Having said that, most of the winners last year were household names.

As well as a pair of wins for Van Gerwen, Michael Smith managed a hat-trick, Nathan Aspinall struck twice and Peter Wright also claimed one of the 30 titles.

And also among the winners were the likes of Luke Humphries, Joe Cullen, Danny Noppert and Rob Cross, a quartet of players who all had genuine claims to be invited into this year's Premier League - and all were snubbed.

Humphries, the fifth-ranked player in the world, was the unluckiest of that quartet and will surely want to prove some points.

Cool Hand Luke had an astonishing 2022 which he kickstarted by winning Players Championship 1, here at Barnsley, pretty much 12 months ago, beating Ryan Searle 8-4 in the final.

He went on to win four times on the European Tour, reached the semi-finals of both the Grand Slam and Players Championship Finals and looked nailed-on to be handed a Premier League spot.

A floor specialist, he, like Cullen, Noppert and Cross represent serious dangers to the field.

Barney still banging away for the old guard

Price isn't the only absentee. Exciting Australian Corey Cadby has got his card back but has not travelled while Christian Perez also sits out this weekend.

There will be loads of new kids on the darting block hoping to flex their muscles but plenty of the old school are still around intent on putting some of the new arrivals in their place.

James Wade and Adrian Lewis were both Players Championship winners in 2022 and will believe they have more wins in them yet.

The same can be said of the likes of Steve Beaton, Gary Anderson and Raymond van Barneveld, all of them a lot harder to fancy these days but all blessed with a pedigree which would make them impossible to write off.

Van Barneveld is 50/1 To Win Outright Players Championship 1, while Wade is priced at 66/1 and Gary Anderson is 50/1.

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