The qualification structure for the PDC European Tour has been confirmed for 2020 ahead of the widest-reaching season of events since the series was introduced.
A total of 13 European Tour events are set to take place during 2020, including visits to Belgium and Hungary for the first time alongside tournaments in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, the Czech Republic and Gibraltar.
As in recent years, each event will feature 48 players and sees the top 16 players from the ProTour Order of Merit seeded through to the second round.
PDC Tour Card Holders will now compete in one combined qualifier for a total of 24 places in the tournament, having previously been split into UK and European Qualifiers.
The top two ranked players from each Host Nation will also qualify by right, where applicable, as two of four players representing each Host Nation.
Further qualifiers will come from the PDC Nordic & Baltic and East Europe regions (one place per tournament), with two places reserved for an Associate Member Qualifier, which will be open to players who competed at the 2020 PDC Qualifying School but did not win a Tour Card.
“The European Tour is a hugely popular and important part of the PDC circuit now and the expansion into two new territories next year is accompanied by this exciting update to the qualification structure,” said PDC Chief Executive Matthew Porter.
“We have reviewed the European Tour with partners including PDC Europe and the PDPA and believe that this new qualifying structure provides a great balance for fans attending across Europe as well as players competing in the events.”
16 Seeded Players – top 16 entered players from ProTour Order of Merit at time of entry deadline. Will enter each event at second round stage, and need to win their second round match in order for prize money to count to the relevant Orders of Merit.
Up to two ranked players from the Host Nation, outside of the top 16 seeds, from the ProTour Order of Merit at the time of entry deadline. Will enter each event at first round stage, and need to win their first round match in order for prize money to count to the relevant Orders of Merit. Should there be less than two ranked players from the Host Nation, additional places would be on offer at the Host Nation Qualifier.
24 Tour Card Holder Qualifiers – from one knockout qualifier featuring all Tour Card Holders
One PDC Nordic & Baltic Qualifier
One East Europe Qualifier
Two Host Nation Qualifiers – from events for Associate and Day Members from the Host Nation. Day Members can participate in up to two Host Nation Qualifiers per year.
Two Associate Member Qualifiers – from events open to any Associate Member who competed at the 2020 Qualifying Schools.
Author note 1:I wrote the piece below in April 2017. Rob Cross was making a tremendous impact and it seemed to be a watershed moment in the development of the PDC. I may well have underestimated it! Voltage crashed into the Grand Slam and is tearing up the field, he is also likely to rise even higher in the rankings than I suggested in the conclusion to this piece and I suspect he is a game or two away from the Premier League .( CJHH: Nov 17)
Rob Cross caught my attention, as a player, a couple of years ago. During the 2016 UK Open lot of fuss was made of Barry Lynn, however, it was Cross’s talent and attitude that struck me as worth watching. His remarkable subsequent progress could prove an example for others and a validation of the PDC in their efforts to build a sustainable career path for new players.
In its early years, the PDC’s Pro Tour was quite a slow-moving and shy animal. In its original form any player could register with the PDPA and then pay to enter these events. Many hoped to gain enough points/pounds to qualify for the bigger events and kick-start a professional career. Others simply played for the challenge, and pleasure, of playing with the very best.
A Truly Professional Game?
In 2010/11 it was decided to restructure the system and build a structure, similar to that used in golf and tennis, that offered a pathway for players with talent to progress through. The rival organisation’s route, despite its flaws, can also provide players with a path. But progress has been slow, many of the same players dominated for long periods and only those who swapped from the top of the BDO system seemed to become established within the PDC. This is not to say that many other players, from various darting backgrounds, did not perform superbly for a limited period or that a small number did not break into the top rank after an extended period of trying. Justin Pipe & Peter Wright demonstrated what could be achieved.
Since 2011 the elements of the PDC Tour have grown into a cohesive professional structure that can guide players from their youth performances ( Development Tour) through to a 2nd level tour (Challenge Tour) tour and, via the Qualifying School, then the truly professional ranks of the Pro Tour, European Tour and Majors. This system offers a set of building blocks toward a top-flight career.
The costs are substantially less than the Pro Tour, the prize money, and other incentives, have been set at levels which allow any determined player to be able to take part. The facilities, venues and atmosphere are virtually identical to the highest level events (non TV) and thus genuine acclimatisation and development are both possible and rewarded. But only when a genuinely new player has demonstrated that this path and structure is viable, for high level and long-term success, can it be classed as a true pathway to professionalism.
Rob Cross may be a very important player in the progress of PDC darts. He has become the first player to take advantage of all the adult opportunities offered by the new system, winning at every level, and move to the brink of top-flight success. Along the way, he has illustrated some of the other elements available to the modern player and how to gain the maximum from them.
Path to Success
Rob broke through by winning qualification to the UK Open in 2016. The qualifying events are completely amateur in nature, taking place in Riley’s clubs across the UK, but are overseen by the PDC and abide by their basic framework. They immensely difficult to win and often have a very strong field of ex-Pro Tour players, strong BDO players and other very experienced local performers. The vast majority of qualifying players do not progress, past their first couple of games, in the TV event. Rob Cross, however, overcame serious opposition from Pro Tour players, including former Premier League players, and played matches of up to 17 legs, to reach the last 32. He then found himself up against Michael Van Gerwen. Despite the defeat (5-9), he stood up to a complete barrage of other world darts, including a 9 dart leg and a 170 finish, from MVG. He played his own game and performed superbly well. It could be argued that the relaxation of playing a lesser known player, combined with Rob’s strong performance led to MVG producing what he did.
Next stop was the PDC Challenge Tour. Carrying his momentum from the UK Open, and obvious good form, he reached a final immediately and continued in such fashion for the entire season. His three tour victories ensured that he topped the Challenge Tour Order of Merit and gained an automatic tour card for 2017. In doing so Cross proved that he could win at the next available level of PDC competition, avoided having to attend Q School in January 2017 and could look forward to the 2017 Professional UK Open Qualifiers.
Career Planning and Progression.
In the Autumn of 2016 Cross made another excellent decision, one that may have been at least partly down to the new PDC system. John Archer, a former PDC player, had moved into management and promotion of players. John is a very knowledgeable and straightforward individual who provides good support to his players. His offer to support Rob and the acceptance of that decision seems to have provided the final piece in the jigsaw for Rob’s success. Whether this was due to financial calculations or for support and assistance, with his future career, it was a very smart move. Players, such as Justin Pipe, have made huge progress after easing the burden on themselves as early career professionals. For Cross and Nevada to join hands at this stage was a very astute step.
Professional UK Open Qualifiers.
It appears that considerable thought was given to Rob’s debut season on the Pro Tour. In the early stages he took part in the UK Open qualifiers, performing superbly. Very few players, without considerable high level experience, collect £’s in every one of their first six of these events and in reaching a semi-final more great experience was gained. Thus a first TV major as a professional qualifier was secured. No European tour qualifiers were undertaken at this point. Again choosing from the available experiences and opportunities in a way which would have been scarcely possible a couple of years ago.
Players Championships & UK Open 2017
Next would come another leap in progression. Rob’s Players Championship (PC) debut, February 2017, was steady, these events are seeded, different in atmosphere and tougher in terms of ability. He then returned to the UK Open, this time as a top-ranked professional qualifier, and managed to improve on his 2016 performance reaching the last 16 stage. This was a more significant step than it may appear. When returning to the scene of previous success players are no longer surprise packages and also gain more attention. The pressures are different and not easy to adjust to.
Returning to the PC events, the following weekend, Cross produced a superb performance to triumph in only his third top-tier event. Along the way, Rob defeated former champions, new generation champions and legends of the game, including Raymond Van Barneveld in the qtr finals. He has since added another Players Championship victory to his total and many other later stage efforts. In a debut year this is simply outstanding.
During the weekend of his remarkable PC win Rob also gained his first experience of the Euro Tour qualifiers. After being unsuccessful at the first attempt he managed to qualify for the German Darts Open and has since qualified for four more events, with more qualifiers to come.
These events operate on a hybrid of UK Open and Players Championship formulae. Upon qualification, you are placed into a seeded draw featuring the top-ranked and form players. But games are played singly on stage over a three-day period. It appears that the combination worked very well. Rob has reached the Qtr Finals of three out of four events, gained stage wins over players such as Whitlock and Chisnall whilst adding more ranking £’s toward this seasons major events. This may well be the best consistent performance of any qualifier for this tour. Experience and success here are possibly the most beneficial for any new player. For many years experience, of stage games, large audiences and the single-game high-pressure atmosphere was difficult to come by. Qualifying players were at a huge disadvantage, and often did not play to their fullest potential, as a result. This has been steadily changing since the introduction and expansion of this very successful branch of the PDC structure.
Majors, Worlds and Rankings.
Following this remarkable start to his career, I can find no other who will have achieved so much from a standing start, Cross has qualified for every available event for the rest of 2017. This will include debuts at: The World Matchplay, The World Grand Prix, The European Championships, The Grand Slam, Players Championship Finals and The World Professional Championships. Only invitational events will be missing from his list from now to the end of the year, even here, however, the PDC has been known to vary this if it can be justified?
Looking at previous debut, and early career, players it is likely that those in similar formats to those regularly played will offer the best chance. Players Championship Finals and the European Championships would seem likely opportunities for Rob to do well. Yet we would be foolish to rule out another leap in achievement. The Grand Prix and then The World Champs offer great reward for fewer wins.
The rankings system will be very important to Rob. The higher he can climb, on all tables, the easier it will be to sustain the success he is achieving. Seedings in certain events and guarantees of tour card retention and a certain income relieve many pressures. His current rank of 52 is superb in such a short time but will be eclipsed at the end of this season.
Based on a simply maintaining his current standard Rob is a certainty for the top 32. The top 20 is likely and, with a strong run or two in a major event, especially the World Champs, he could even break into the top 16. For any PDC debutant these are superb achievements. For a player without significant previous experience they are outstanding and possibly even unique.
In addition to his own remarkable success Cross has demonstrated that the new structure of the PDC, together with smart career planning and a professional attitude, can provide a perfect path to the very top of the game. No need to slog around the BDO for years on end, no need to join the tour and spend years and £000’s learning to adapt to all the different formats, atmosphere, stages, formats etc. Make no mistake,it still takes a player of immense talent and a superb attitude to pull this off, but it has been shown to be possible!
All dart players, and fans. should keep an eye on Mr Rob Cross. and wish him well in progressing, and sustaining, a potentially groundbreaking career in what is fast becoming a truly professional game!
Author note 2: The rest they say is history, Cross went on to outstrip even my wild optimism for his success. World Champion in Jan 2018 and the story continues to this day……….(Jan 2020)
PDC Dart player Jan Dekker, exploits ranking system to perfection as UK players disadvantaged.
Double Dekker. Former BDO World Semi Finalist Jan Dekker
Jan Dekker is a Dutch dart player of considerable talent. He has reached the later stages of the BDO ( British Darts Organisation) Lakeside World Championship on more than one occasion and has shown a strong big game temperament. He has always appeared an intelligent and well-informed person and player. He resisted the calls to run to the full-time professional circuit, after his early success, and returned to finish his education. Over the last couple of years he has again returned to the fore and this year made the decision to play within the PDC (Professional Darts Corporation) system.
The PDC system involves a qualifying school, to gain one of 128 tour cards in order to be assured of playing on the Pro Tour events and then a number of tours, of differing levels, to qualify for various major & TV events over the year. Tour cards last for up yo two years but are given annually to those in the top 64 without the need for Q School attendance. Those who fail to get a tour card are ranked on their performance. They can still play some tours and are reserve players for the main Pro Tour events and as such may be able to play almost the entire Pro Tour whilst still being eligible for the lower tier tours as well.
To enable wider international participation, some events/tours have qualifiers in, or near to, their continental locations as well as a UK qualifying event. Therefore International players can choose either method of qualification.
The basic aim of the system is to provide qualification and ranking systems and well as allow new players to make an attempt to get into the elite Tour Card holding echelons of PDC Professional darts and to earn some of the £7 million plus prize fund available. As can be imagined this is incredibly competitive and, as in any sport, requires not only talent but financial backing / earnings, patience and determination.
Having met Jan on a number of occasions during the past few years I was interested to see how his move to the PDC would pan out and thus have kept an eye out for his result, I watched some of his games and assessed his progress as the 2015 season has progressed. As a dart consultant /coach and fan I was also in a position to compare this to the efforts of other, mainly UK, players who were in a similar position at the seasons beginning. Q School in Wigan January 2015.
As well as noting Jan’s relative success, many thought he would not thrive, it became impossible not to notice several flaws in the professional system, Jan was benefiting from, not available to other players.
This was again highlighted when I also looked out for a player that I had admired, for a number of years, and was well thought of elsewhere. Eddie Dootson is an experienced but little known player from the UK. It became impossible not to see how badly the odds were stacked against him.
Now that the floor / qualification season is over these anomalies can be shown in their true light.
No blame or allegation of the players mentioned or their teams is intended or implied. Both are simply attempting to gain the best start to their PDC career within the rules in place.
Dekker had a moderately successful Q school, although he did not gain one of the Pro Tour cards available, he finished high enough up the ranking table to ensure he would be able to compete in the vast majority of Pro Tour events should he wish to do so. By entering and playing the event he also became entitled to play the second level PDC tour known as The Challenge Tour. In addition to this he would be eligible to play in the qualifiers events for six The UK Open and nine European Tour events. The later of these he could do either via the UK qualifiers, which were open to all associate members, or the European/Home Nation Qualifier for each event. This becomes the first example of Two Shots for Dekker. For the 2015 season he can aim to get a tour card either by reaching the top 64 overall or by winning the challenge tour. At the same time his financial opportunities increase over new tour card holders who cannot compete in the Challenge Tour.
Eddie Dootson had a similar overall Q School experience, although he finished higher up the ranking table and was thus assured of gaining access to every event.
Eddie Dootson Reaches Last 16 of UK Open 2015
With this security net, of his two shots at every aim, Jan Dekker is able to relax and play in the qualifiers for these events. As these events are not seeded and he is a highly experienced international player, this should provide a happy hunting ground. A very average performance by his own standard means he qualifies but only in the lower group. Here however his talent for big game match play comes storming through. Jan reaches the last 16 of his debut PDC major and adds £5000 to his bank account but more importantly to his overall ranking position.
Eddie starts superbly and reaches a semi final and finished in the top group in qualifying finishing in 22nd place. He then goes on to reach the last 16 of his debut major. Superb performance to add £5000 to his qualification winnings.
The Challenge Tour
Dekker has previous experience of the challenge tour so a quiet start, picking up a few hundred pounds on the first weekend, does not put a dent in the proceedings. By weekend two however Jan is in a much better place, this sees him win one event and reaches Semi and Qtr finals over the weekends four competitions. The consistent playing of events on most weekends and constant opportunities for him to improve and adapt are beginning to pay off. Over the next two Challenge Tour weekends things have changed on the Pro Tour and a confident Dekker wins two more events and picks up money / ranking points in three more. He even misses event twelve completely. In total he has picked up almost £7,500 in cash and by winning the order of merit has earned himself a tour card for 2016/17. No Q School for Mr Dekker next year. Achieving this by September removes a lot of pressure.
Eddie does not shine on the challenge tour. having not previous tour experience and having to play at the highest level in other events, it is not surprising that something gives and the Challenge Tour is not a priority.
His Q school ranking ensures Jan has played in almost every Pro Tour Floor event this year. As for all newer players it has proved a tough baptism. However his talent has come through in stages and he has regularly won through to claim between £250 & £750, with one last 16 appearance earning him £1500. His total from his 19 appearances at Players Championship & UK Open qualifiers was £4750. Whilst respectable for a first season it hardly sets the world on fire with the last 16 being his best performance. Here again though, double shot, Dekker has benefited from the slanted rules. Josh Payne for example has earned over £8,000 from the same 20 Pro Tour events but is struggling to qualify for the World Championships. Dekker will have no such problems even with an overall Pro Tour finish of 73rd place.
Eddie Dootson has an excellent Pro Tour first year. As suspected he is eligible for all events and in the 20 players champs and 6 UK Open Qualifiers he reaches a Semi Final and steadily accumulates ranking money with L64 and L32 places. His earnings, of £5,250 are again higher than Jan’s.
Since 2012 The European Tour has altered the balance of the PDC Rankings
These nine events ( there will be ten in 2016) have transformed the PDC rankings. They are superb opportunities for up and coming players who get to them. They are held on stage and give great experience, as well as being the best rewarded stand alone element of the Pro Tour. Each event accepts the top 16 seeds from the appropriate order of merit and then has qualifying places open to players at the UK , European & Host nation qualifiers. Qualifiers receive £1000 for the first round and thus can easily cover expenses and concentrate on getting through a round or two to swell their ranking coffers. Often with at least one game against an opponent not from the top 16. Despite playing in the, relatively, easier qualifying events Jan has only qualified for two of these events. However they have made all the difference. Both events came at the right time in terms of financial / ranking boosts and without them life may well have been much tougher!
The £2500 gained here has meant that Jan is sitting in second spot for the European qualifying places for the World Championships. Despite being 73rd in the Pro Tour Order of Merit he will line up at Ally Pally in December. With his record, on TV, and experience meaning he is an opponent that very few would wish for.
Eddie had to enter the much more difficult UK qualifiers for all these events but still managed to qualify for 2 events and gain an additional £2,000. Despite these efforts he will not qualify for the World Championships via the Pro Tour and unless he can gain a place at the qualifying event his PDC season is complete.
Overall Rankings & Earnings.
As noted earlier the top 64 in the overall rankings gain automatic tour cards for a minimum of one year. To avoid Q School in 2016 a reasonable guess would have been for a player to gain in the region of £17,000 in ranking prize money over the season including the World Professional Championships. It is safe to say that were Dekker a UK player he would have had a solid first season and be planning Q School and then a decision on whether to keep his ranking money for 2016/17 or start again from zero. Due to the above double opportunities though he has one further card to play. The prize money from the World Championships will put Jan into the top 64. If he starts in Rd 1 it will put him into the top 55 and any wins will see him rocket up the table. Thus again the double elimination loophole is working overtime for Jan here. He has gained entry to European Tours via an event not open to all. The funds generated from this have earned him a place at Ally Pally, that is also not open to all, and the accumulation of funds will mean he is rewarded with a place in the elite top 64.
As well as the top 64 place is it safe to say that Jan’s first season has hardly been one of financial struggle against the odds. By early January 2016 he will have been in the PDC system for 12 months. He will have claimed prize money £30,000+. This is basically for failing to win a tour card and finishing outside the top 70 on the Pro Tour. He will start 2016 with nothing to defend and with every chance of moving further up the rankings, even with another steady year.
Meanwhile Eddie Dootson, despite having matched or bettered Dekker in every ranking arena, will have earned a little over £12,000. He will decide on whether to return to Q School and, if he achieves a tour card, whether to start again or gamble on a lesser amount in the ranking bank.
Whilst acknowledging that it is important for darts to attract players and financial interest from other nations, surely it is time to remove some of the more glaring unfairness from a system that works against highly talented players who, cannot work the system financially or, are simply born in the nation that drives the darts boom!
Put simply, it is time for Barry Hearn & Matt Porter at the PDC and Peter Manley & Alan Warriner-Little at the PDPA to stop tweaking the rules, and ranking system, and overhaul it to take account of the changes that their superb success, in creating the modern game, has created. It is clearly time for as level a playing field as possible.