Smith handed tricky start in PDC World Championship draw
Michael Smith will begin the defence of his PDC World Championship title with a tricky tie against either Kevin Doets or Stowe Buntz.
Smith, 33, lifted darts' biggest prize for the first time back in January when stunning three-time champion Michael van Gerwen 7-4 in a memorable final.
Yet the Bully Boy's form has been underwhelming in recent months and the world No1 knows he has a fight on his hands to retain his crown.
Smith said: "It is going to be a sad moment. I am going to be introduced as the reigning champion, but if I get beat next time I am going to be the former champion.
"I don't want to be the former. Eventually it will happen, but I'm not ready for it to end yet.
"I want to be announced next year as the reigning back-to-back champion, that is what I am striving for.
"I know I can do it, I have to work on my game to find it. But I have done it countless times before."
Chief threat to Smith in the top half of the draw is Gerwyn Price, who will kick off his title tilt against either Connor Scutt or Krzysztof Kciuk.
The Welshman triumphed in 2021 when the tournament was played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic but has otherwise endured a challenging relationship with the London crowds.
Intense jeering even led the Iceman to unsuccessfully don a pair of ear-defenders midway through last year's quarter-final loss to Gabriel Clemens, before threatening to never play at Ally Pally again.
Both bookmakers' favourites lie in the bottom half of the draw in the form of Van Gerwen and man of the moment Luke Humphries.
Dutch superstar MVG is the sport's most decorated player after the legendary Phil Taylor and will start his campaign against Irish youngster Keane Barry or debutant Reynaldo Rivera.
Meanwhile, Humphries — who has impressively won three of the last four televised ranking events — looks to have a kind start against Lee Evans or Sandro Eric Sosing.
As is tradition, reigning champion Smith will play his first match on opening night on December 15, with the final taking place on January 3, 2024.