DARTS' biggest-ever event begins on Thursday, with Rob Cross beginning his William Hill World Darts Championship title defence at Alexandra Palace.

A field of 96 players from 28 countries will compete across the Christmas and New Year period live on the dedicated Sky Sports Darts channel, with a record £2.5m prize money on offer.

Cross, who famously defeated Phil Taylor in the final 12 months ago, will take on the winner of the tournament's opening fixture between World Matchplay semi-finalist Jeffrey de Zwaan and Indian Qualifier Nitin Kumar, as he aims to repeat last year's incredible success.

"I've been working hard in practice to make sure I'm ready and I can't wait to get out there," said Cross, who is priced at 22/1 with sponsors William Hill to win back-to-back titles.

"It's the biggest tournament in the world so you've got to be ready.

"I might be a little bit edgy in the first game but I was last year too and it went well for me then, and coming back to Alexandra Palace might bring out the best in me.

"Last year was completely different because there was no pressure on me, but I'm really looking forward to it. I love the set play format."

Lisa Ashton (Lawrence Lustig, PDC)

Reigning Lakeside Women's Champion Ashton will make her Alexandra Palace debut against Dutchman Jan Dekker in another high-profile fixture on the opening night.

"I'm going to enjoy the experience and for me it's great to be playing on the first night so I can get straight into it," said Ashton.

"I've had some great support and a lot of respected people in the game have said nice things about me, but there's also a bit of pressure that comes with that.

"But I'll turn any nerves into positivity and adrenaline that will have a good effect on my game and hopefully I will do ladies' darts proud."

Ashton joined Anastasia Dobromyslova in qualifying for the event, with the Russian ace set to take on Ryan Joyce in her opening tie on Monday December 17.

Thursday's opening night also features the tie between Germany's Martin Schindler and New Zealand's Cody Harris, with the winner progressing to face last year's semi-finalist Jamie Lewis on Friday afternoon.

Michael van Gerwen (Lawrence Lustig, PDC)

Two-time World Champion Gary Anderson headlines the second day of action as he meets Paul Nicholson or Kevin Burness, while world number one Michael van Gerwen enters the event on Saturday December 15 where he will play either Alan Tabern or Raymond Smith.

"It feels amazing to win the World Championship title, you work so hard for it all year and it's a phenomenal moment of completion," said two-time World Champion Van Gerwen.

"I've won two but I want to win more and to do that I have to make sure that I'm ready. I know I'll be a big favourite and there will be pressure on me, so I have to perform.

"People always play better against me than other players, maybe because there's no pressure on them so I have to play well and make sure I prepare well."

Former World Championship finalist Peter Wright, Dave Chisnall and the legendary Paul Lim are amongst the stars in action on Sunday December 16.

Five-time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld begins his penultimate Ally Pally challenge - ahead of his retirement at the end of next year - on Monday December 17 against either Matthew Edgar or Darius Labanauskas.

The second round concludes on Friday December 21, the third round is split either side of the Christmas break, with the fourth round being played on December 27-28 ahead of the quarter-finals across two sessions on December 29.

The semi-finals on Sunday December 30 will be followed on Tuesday January 1 by the final as sport's first World Champion of 2019 hoists the Sid Waddell Trophy.

Tickets for the William Hill World Darts Championship are still available, with very limited availability for some sessions. Group Bookings are still available in the tiered seating areas for the afternoon sessions on December 19 and 20.

Information for tickets and Hospitality Packages can be seen at THIS LINK or CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE SEETICKETS WEBSITE.

The William Hill World Darts Championship will be broadcast live on the dedicated Sky Sports Darts channel from December 13-January 1 and worldwide through the PDC's international broadcast partners.

2018/2019 William Hill World Darts Championship
Schedule of Play
Thursday December 13 (1900)

Jeffrey de Zwaan v Nitin Kumar (R1)
Martin Schindler v Cody Harris (R1)
Jan Dekker v Lisa Ashton (R1)
Rob Cross v De Zwaan/Kumar (R2)

Friday December 14
Afternoon Session (1230)

Michael Barnard v Jose De Sousa (R1)
Alan Tabern v Raymond Smith (R1)
Paul Nicholson v Kevin Burness (R1)
Jamie Lewis v Schindler/Harris (R2)

Evening Session (1900)
Danny Noppert v Royden Lam (R1)
Simon Stevenson v Ted Evetts (R1)
Chris Dobey v Boris Koltsov (R1)
Gary Anderson v Nicholson/Burness (R2)

Saturday December 15
Afternoon Session (1230)

Richard North v Robert Marijanovic (R1)
Mickey Mansell v Jim Long (R1)
Josh Payne v Jeff Smith (R1)
Max Hopp v Noppert/Lam (R2)

Evening Session (1900)
Toni Alcinas v Craig Ross (R1)
Ryan Searle v Stephen Burton (R1)
Keegan Brown v Karel Sedlacek (R1)
Michael van Gerwen v Tabern/Ray Smith (R2)

Sunday December 16
Afternoon Session (1230)

Gabriel Clemens v Aden Kirk (R1)
William O’Connor v Yordi Meeuwisse (R1)
Brendan Dolan v Yuanjun Liu (R1)
Dave Chisnall v Payne/J Smith (R2)

Evening Session (1900)
Luke Humphries v Adam Hunt (R1)
Matthew Edgar v Darius Labanauskas (R1)
Ross Smith v Paul Lim (R1)
Peter Wright v Alcinas/Ross (R2)

Monday December 17 (1900)
Vincent van der Voort v Lourence Ilagan (R1)
Wayne Jones v Devon Petersen (R1)
Ryan Joyce v Anastasia Dobromyslova (R1)
Raymond van Barneveld v Edgar/Labanauskas (R2)

Tuesday December 18
Afternoon Session (1230)

Robert Thornton v Daniel Larsson (R1)
Ricky Evans v Rowby-John Rodriguez (R1)
Krzysztof Ratajski v Seigo Asada (R1)
Darren Webster v Van der Voort/Ilagan (R2)

Evening Session (1900)
Steve Lennon v James Bailey (R1)
Ron Meulenkamp v Diogo Portela (R1)
Dimitri Van den Bergh v Chuck Puleo (R1)
Daryl Gurney v Ross Smith/Lim (R2)

Wednesday December 19
Afternoon Session (1230)

Nathan Aspinall v Geert Nentjes (R1)
Jeffrey de Graaf v Noel Malicdem (R1)
Joe Cullen v Dolan/Liu (R2)
Kim Huybrechts v Thornton/Larsson (R2)

Evening Session (1900)
James Wilson v O’Connor/Meuwisse (R2)
Simon Whitlock v Joyce/Dobromyslova (R2)
Michael Smith v Meulenkamp/Portela (R2)
James Wade v Ratajski/Asada (R2)

Thursday December 20
Afternoon Session (1230)

Jermaine Wattimena v Barnard/De Sousa (R2)
Alan Norris v Lennon/Bailey (R2)
Stephen Bunting v Humphries/Hunt (R2)
Steve Beaton v Dobey/Koltsov (R2)

Evening Session (1900)
Cristo Reyes v Evans/Rodriguez (R2)
Mervyn King v Dekker/Ashton (R2)
Adrian Lewis v Stevenson/Evetts (R2)
Mensur Suljovic v Searle/Burton (R2)

Friday December 21
Afternoon Session (1230)

Benito van de Pas v Mansell/Long (R2)
John Henderson v Clemens/Kirk (R2)
Steve West v North/Marijanovic (R2)
Kyle Anderson v De Graaf/Malicdem (R2)

Evening Session (1900)
Ian White v Jones/Petersen (R2)
Jelle Klaasen v Brown/Sedlacek (R2)
Gerwyn Price v Aspinall/Nentjes (R2)
Jonny Clayton v Van den Bergh/Puleo (R2)

Saturday December 22
Afternoon Session (1230)

Whitlock/Joyce/Dobromyslova v Norris/Lennon/Bailey (R3)
Chisnall/Payne/J Smith v Huybrechts/Thornton/Larsson (R3)
Gurney/Ross Smith/Lim v J Lewis/Schindler/Harris (R3)

Evening Session (1900)
Suljovic/Searle/Burton v Wilson/O’Connor/Meeuwisse (R3)
G Anderson/Nicholson/Burness v Wattimena/Barnard/De Sousa (R3)
Van Gerwen/Tabern/Ray Smith v Hopp/Noppert/Lam (R3)

Sunday December 23
Afternoon Session (1230)

Webster/Van der Voort/Ilagan v Beaton/Dobey/Koltsov (R3)
Cullen/Dolan/Liu v King/Dekker/Ashton (R3)
Wade/Ratajski/Asada v Klaasen/Brown/Sedlacek (R3)

Evening Session (1900)
A Lewis/Stevenson/Evetts v Van Barneveld/Edgar/Labanauskas (R3)
Price/Aspinall/Nentjes v K Anderson/De Graaf/Malicdem (R3)
Cross/De Zwaan/Kumar v Reyes/Evans/Rodriguez (R3)

Thursday December 27
Afternoon Session (1230)

White/Jones/Petersen v West/North/Marijanovic (R3)
Clayton/Van den Bergh/Puleo v Bunting/Humphries/Hunt (R3)
M Smith/Meulenkamp/Portela v Henderson/Clemens/Kirk (R3)

Evening Session (1900)
Wright/Alcinas/Ross v Van de Pas/Mansell/Long (R3)
Fourth Round x2
 
Friday December 28
Afternoon Session (1230)

Fourth Round x3

Evening Session (1900)
Fourth Round x3

Saturday December 29
Afternoon Session (1230)

Quarter-Finals x2

Evening Session (1900)
Quarter-Finals x2

Sunday December 30 (1900)
Semi-Finals

Tuesday January 1 (2000)
Final

Format
First Round - Best of five sets (no tie-break)
Second Round - Best of five sets
Third Round - Best of seven sets
Fourth Round - Best of seven sets
Quarter-Finals - Best of nine sets
Semi-Finals - Best of 11 sets
Final - Best of 13 sets
A tie-break will be in operation in all round from the second round onwards, where the final set must be won by two clear legs. If the score reaches five-all, the 11th leg will be a sudden-death leg.