World Champion Michael Smith will return to action in 2023 at the Bahrain Darts Masters

The 2023 Bahrain Darts Masters begins on Thursday, as World Champion Michael Smith makes his first competitive appearance since lifting The Sid Waddell Trophy last week.

The PDC's World Series of Darts visits Bahrain for the first time this week, with the first of five international events this year taking place in the Dome at the Bahrain International Circuit on January 12-13.

Thursday's first round will pit eight PDC stars against eight Asian representatives, which includes two local qualifiers from Bahrain who are making their televised debuts.

World number one Smith will headline Thursday's first round, fresh from his history-making exploits at Alexandra Palace, which saw him defeat Michael van Gerwen 7-4 to claim his first World Championship crown.

The St Helens star also produced a sensational nine-dart finish en route to glory, and he returns to action against Manama-based mechanic Abdulnasser Yusuf in round one.

"I can't wait for John McDonald to announce me on stage as the World Champion," revealed Smith, the top seed in Bahrain.

"I've always wanted to be World Champion. It was my childhood dream, but now it's about motivating myself to stay as world number one and win more major trophies.

"I have barely thrown a dart since the double eight went in [at Ally Pally], so I might be a bit rusty, but after a couple of hours on the board, it will soon come back.

"I'm looking forward to it. There's only one thing on my mind, and that is to win."

Elsewhere, reigning World Series of Darts Finals champion Gerwyn Price will take on legendary Singapore icon Paul Lim in one of Thursday's stand-out ties, as Lim makes his big stage return at the age of 68.

World number two Peter Wright kicks off his campaign against World Championship qualifier Toru Suzuki, a PDC Asian Championship semi-finalist in September.

This week's landmark event will also see Luke Humphries make his World Series of Darts debut, with the world number five up against Hong Kong's World Cup star Man Lok Leung in his opener.

Humphries enjoyed a breakthrough 2022 season, scooping five ranking titles and reaching semi-finals at the Grand Slam of Darts and Players Championship Finals to continue his progress in the sport.

First Round: Thursday January 12

  • Dimitri Van den Bergh v Alain Abiabi
  • Rob Cross v Nitin Kumar
  • Luke Humphries v Man Lok Leung
  • Gerwyn Price v Paul Lim
  • Peter Wright v Toru Suzuki
  • Michael Smith v Abdulnasser Yusuf
  • Raymond van Barneveld v Yuki Yamada
  • Jonny Clayton v Basem Mahmood

"This is an iconic moment for me," admitted Humphries, a former UK Open runner-up.

"It's been a great rise. I'm fifth in the world now and I'm looking forward to being part of the World Series for the first time.

"I've worked really hard at my game. Last year was my breakthrough year and I am getting to reap the rewards by being part of such big spectacles for darts.

Playoffs: Friday January 13

  • Quarter-Finals
  • Semi-Finals
  • Final

"I want to put on a show because that's what we're out here for. As much as it's a fun event to be a part of, I want to play well and show my credentials."

Humphries could take on five-time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld in the quarter-finals, with the veteran Dutchman making his first World Series appearance since 2019.

The five-time World Champion has enjoyed an impressive resurgence over recent months, rolling back the years with a run to November's Grand Slam of Darts semi-finals.

Format

  • First Round - Best of 11 legs
  • Quarter-Finals - Best of 11 legs
  • Semi-Finals - Best of 13 legs
  • Final - Best of 15 legs

Van Barneveld's exploits in Wolverhampton saw him regain a place in the world's top 32, and he is aiming to kick off 2023 in style ahead of his first round tie against Japan's Yuki Yamada.

"It feels amazing to be back. I'm really pleased to be here and I hope I can do well," said Van Barneveld, who featured in the PDC's first World Series event in Dubai back in 2013.

"I was in Johannesburg when we went to South Africa, we've been to Tokyo, Australia, New Zealand, Dubai - everywhere we went we were treated like popstars.

Prize Fund & Ranking Points

  • Winner - £20,000 & 12 points
  • Runner-Up - £10,000 & 8 points
  • Semi-Finalists - £5,000 & 5 points
  • Quarter-Finalists - £2,500 & 3 points
  • First Round Losers - £1,250 & 1 point
  • Total - £60,000

"The sport is growing still, and hopefully this week will be a great success.

"I am loving the game again. I can't wait to play in Bahrain and show the world that I'm still able to lift trophies, and that's what I am aiming for."

Former World Champion Rob Cross makes his World Series return against India's Nitin Kumar, while Welsh star Jonny Clayton plays Bahrain qualifier Basem Mahmood, a banker from Manama.

Meanwhile, Dimitri Van den Bergh - a winner of two World Series of Darts titles in 2022 - opens Thursday's proceedings against Philippines' Alain Abiabi, who is making his TV debut in the Dome.

Following Thursday's first round action, the Bahrain Darts Masters will conclude on Friday with the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final taking place in one blockbuster session.

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