THE BetVictor World Matchplay kicks off on Saturday, with Phil Taylor bidding to win the prestigious £450,000 tournament for an incredible 16th time at Blackpool's Winter Gardens against a field which features world number one Michael van Gerwen and World Champion Gary Anderson.
Taylor has endured remarkable success since the World Matchplay's inception, and victory in the nine-day event would see the Stoke legend equal his tally of World Championship victories.
A win in Blackpool would also extend Taylor's winning streak to eight years in the World Matchplay, with his current seven-title run beginning in 2008 and featuring 35 matches unbeaten.
Taylor begins his challenge at the Winter Gardens in Monday's final session of first round games as he takes on Scotland's John Henderson, but the 54-year-old is in confident mood following last month's Japan Darts Masters win.
"The World Matchplay's a great tournament and a venue I love to play at - there's something a bit special, magical even, about the Winter Gardens," said Taylor.
"It's been a really successful venue for me and it's my favourite; the atmosphere is superb and the fans are really special. I love the World Matchplay and hopefully this can be another great year for me.
"I've been practising really well and I'm looking forward to getting up on stage on Monday night against John, although it's going to be a really tough match because he's been in great form this year."
Saturday's opening night features world number one van Gerwen, the Dutchman who lost out to Taylor in last year's final in Blackpool - only to bounce back with victories in the World Grand Prix, European Championship, The Masters and UK Open since.
"I think that experience has made me stronger and I'm even more focused and desperate to win the World Matchplay this year," said van Gerwen, BetVictor's pre-tournament favourite who plays emerging Dutch youngster Benito van de Pas.
"It's a huge target for me. Three years ago I reached the quarter-finals, two years ago the semi-finals and last year the final, so this year I'm determined to go one step further.
"I've had a great year so far but I want to do well at the World Matchplay and I'm working hard to get ready for it."
Saturday's opening night also features a clash between two stars of this year's Premier League, as flamboyant Peter Wright takes on Belgium's Kim Huybrechts, who has reached two finals on the circuit in the past month.
"It's evenly matched and has the makings of a great game," said Huybrechts, who lost out 10-4 to Wright in Blackpool two years ago.
"Although I've been just outside the top 16 of the world, I was the number one qualifier in the ProTour rankings so whoever drew me would probably say it's a tough first round match.
"We've both played in the Premier League this year and we're players who love to feed off the crowds and show our emotions. The last time we played, in the Premier League, it was a really tight game that Peter only won 7-5, and I think it will be just as close in Blackpool."
Australian star Simon Whitlock kicks off the event against Holland's Jelle Klaasen - who won his first ranking title since 2007 at a Players Championship earlier this month - before 2013 finalist Adrian Lewis takes on Bolton-based debutant Joe Murnan.
"For me this is the best tournament there is, I love the World Matchplay," said Lewis, who was a quarter-finalist on his debut in 2005 and a semi-finalist in 2007 and 2011.
"Some players will say the World Championship is the highlight, but for me this tops the lot. There is a real darts crowd at the Matchplay and the Winter Gardens is an incredible venue to play in."
Sunday sees a double session of first round action, including Scottish star Gary Anderson beginning his bid to add the World Matchplay title to the World Championship, Premier League and Players Championship Finals titles he has picked up in the past year.
"It's an exciting prospect," said Anderson, who takes on veteran star Steve Beaton. "I've been enjoying the year so far and I'm sure it will be the same in Blackpool.
"I'll be giving it my best and to be honest I'm looking forward to every tournament I play in at the moment."
2007 champion James Wade, the only other former World Matchplay winner in the 32-player field, opens up against Australian debutant Kyle Anderson, while two-time finalist Terry Jenkins takes on Mensur Suljovic.
Northern Ireland's Brendan Dolan is up against Dutchman Vincent van der Voort, while Mervyn King and Andrew Gilding clash, Stoke's Ian White faces Premier League ace Stephen Bunting, Justin Pipe meets Welsh youngster Jamie Lewis and former World Youth Champion Michael Smith meets ex-Welsh rugby player Gerwyn Price.
Alongside Taylor's meeting with Henderson on Monday night, five-time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld begins his bid to reach a second Blackpool final against Andy Hamilton, a two-time Winter Gardens semi-finalist.
Grand Slam of Darts runner-up Dave Chisnall will face Jamie Caven, while 2012 UK Open champion Robert Thornton - who won last week's European Tour event in Dusseldorf - plays debutant Keegan Brown, the reigning World Youth Champion from the Isle of Wight.
The BetVictor World Matchplay will be shown live on Sky Sports in the UK & Ireland and worldwide through the PDC's series of broadcast partners, as well as through www.LIVEPDC.TV for International Pass Subscribers.
BetVictor World Matchplay
Saturday July 18 (7pm-11pm)
Simon Whitlock v Jelle Klaasen
Peter Wright v Kim Huybrechts
Michael van Gerwen v Benito van de Pas
Adrian Lewis v Joe Murnan
Sunday July 19
Afternoon Session (1pm-5pm)
Mervyn King v Andrew Gilding
Ian White v Stephen Bunting
Justin Pipe v Jamie Lewis
Michael Smith v Gerwyn Price
Evening Session (7pm-11pm)
Brendan Dolan v Vincent van der Voort
Terry Jenkins v Mensur Suljovic
Gary Anderson v Steve Beaton
James Wade v Kyle Anderson
Monday July 20 (7pm-11pm)
Robert Thornton v Keegan Brown
Dave Chisnall v Jamie Caven
Phil Taylor v John Henderson
Raymond van Barneveld v Andy Hamilton
Tuesday July 21 (7pm-11.30pm)
Wright/Huybrechts v King/Gilding
Whitlock/Klaasen v White/Bunting
Van Gerwen/Van de Pas v Pipe/J Lewis
A Lewis/Murnan v Smith/Price
Wednesday July 22 (7pm-11.30pm)
Chisnall/Caven v Thornton/Brown
Wade/K Anderson v Dolan/van der Voort
Taylor/Henderson v van Barneveld/Hamilton
G Anderson/Beaton v Jenkins/Suljovic
Thursday July 23 (7pm-10pm)
Friday July 24 (7pm-10pm)
Saturday July 25 (7pm-10pm)
Sunday July 26 (7pm-9pm)
First Round - Best of 19 legs
Second Round - Best of 25 legs
Quarter-Finals - Best of 31 legs
Semi-Finals - Best of 33 legs
Final - Best of 35 legs
* Each game must be won by two clear legs, with up to a maximum of five additional legs being played before the sixth "extra" leg is sudden-death. There will be no re-throw for the bull in this instance. For example, should a First Round game (best of 19 legs) reach 12-12, then the 25th leg would be the final and deciding leg.
Winner - £100,000
Runner-Up - £50,000
Semi-Finalists - £27,000
Quarter-Finalists - £17,500
Second Round Losers - £10,000
First Round Losers - £6,000
Total - £450,000
* In addition, should a player achieve a nine-dart finish during this event, a bonus of £15,000 will be paid. Should more than one player achieve a nine-dart finish, this would be shared on a pro-rata basis.
Pre-Tournament Odds, courtesy www.betvictor.com
15/8 Michael van Gerwen
10/3 Phil Taylor
6/1 Gary Anderson
14/1 Dave Chisnall
14/1 Adrian Lewis
25/1 Peter Wright
25/1 James Wade
33/1 Michael Smith
40/1 Stephen Bunting
40/1 Raymond van Barneveld
50/1 Kim Huybrechts
66/1 Ian White
66/1 Robert Thornton
80/1 Simon Whitlock
80/1 Mervyn King
80/1 Jelle Klaasen
80/1 Terry Jenkins
100/1 Keegan Brown
125/1 Vincent van der Voort
125/1 Justin Pipe
125/1 Brendan Dolan
150/1 Benito van de Pas
150/1 Jamie Caven
200/1 Andrew Gilding
200/1 Kyle Anderson
300/1 Gerwyn Price
300/1 Mensur Suljovic
400/1 Steve Beaton
500/1 John Henderson
500/1 Joe Murnan
500/1 Jamie Lewis
750/1 Andy Hamilton
Odds courtesy www.betvictor.com and subject to fluctuation.