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The Beginner’s guide to the greatest pastimes: Darts

(Source: cbc.ca)

Darts has its roots, like so many games that can be played indoors whilst drinking, in the English pub. And it’s to the English that we owe darts, a game of miniature hand-archery played first in pubs then spreading across the commonwealth, to occupy many a Canadian rec room, bar, and legion hall. As a pub game, it’s the down-to-earth counterpart of billiards. Darts began in the pub, and has only started winning big television audiences in the past twenty years. It’s a game of skill and poise, suitable for all ages and weather conditions. This last may explain why Canadians have also become some of the best players outside of the British Isles. Here is our guide to getting started.


What did medieval longbowmen do to unwind from a day of firing arrows towards other men at long distances by bow? They fired arrows towards tipped-over barrels by hand. The game of darts, it is said, originated as a game for off-duty archers in England, and soon spread throughout the realm. The game was popular enough by the sixteenth century that Anne Boleyn gave Henry VIII a highly decorated set of darts as a gift. Those darts were much bigger and heavier that the ones we use today. Over time, darts became smaller (and more accurate) and people began to stand (slightly) closer to the board.

All of the equipment has evolved significantly since the beginning of the sport. Darts were originally arrows or crossbow bolts, which players began shortening to make them more convenient for indoor play. Early purpose-built dart boards were made of slabs of tree trunk, which were soaked overnight to heal the holes left by the darts. The current design of dartboards is thought to be inspired by the concentric rings in a tree trunk, as well as the way the wood would crack into segments after being stuck with enough darts. Since the 1920’s, boards have been constructed of plant fibers bound together by a metal ring. This allows the fibres simply to part when the dart enters the boards without causing any enduring damage. The standard arrangement of numbers on the board is thought to be invented by Brian Gamlin at the end of the 19th century.

The history of darts is full of interesting anecdotes, many of which can be found on the website of Patrick Chaplin, AKA “Doctor Darts”, who is a historian of the game. One of the more vivid is that the foul line from which the darts must be thrown is called the “oche”, pronounced “hockey”, which is derived from “hocken”, and old English word meaning “to spit” (to “hock a loogey”). According to some, the “hockey line” was set at the distance that a player could spit, standing with his back to the wall.

What you need to know to get started

You need to know two things to get started: how to interpret the board and the rules of a dart game.

The board: the standard dart board is made of concentric circles split into twenty segments with a bullseye in the middle. The thin outermost ring is the “double ring”. This means that darts that land in that section are worth twice the value of the segment. So if you land in the double 20 (at the top of the board), that dart scores 40 points. The larger segments are worth the number of points of the segment. The middle ring are triples, scoring 3x the point value. The green circle in the middle is the bullseye, worth 25. The smallest red circle at the very centre is the double bullseye.

Game rules: There are a wide variety of darts games with different rules. Here are a few to get you started.

301, 501, 801: The x01 games are so-called because the object is to score that number of points. Each player starts with (for example) 501 points and takes turns throwing three darts, subtracting the points they score from the total. To win, the player must reach zero by hitting either a double or a bullseye. For example, if the player has 8 points left, she must hit the double 4 to win. If a dart reduces a player’s score below zero (“going bust”) the points scored in that turn don’t count, and the player’s score is reset to the number of points they had when they started the turn.

Around the clock: Take turns throwing three darts. Aim first at the 1, then the 2, and so on through all the numbers on the board. End with a bullseye. Doubles advance two numbers; triples advance three.

Killer: To begin, each player throws a dart with their non-dominant hand. Whatever number they hit becomes their number. Each player starts by aiming at their own number. When they score 5 hits (or “lives”) they become a “killer”. Remember, doubles count as two, triples as three. A player must get exactly 5 lives to become a killer. If they are at 4 and hit a triple, the excess lives are subtracted from their score, leaving 3.

When players become killers they can aim at the other players’ numbers with each hit taking away a life. When a player reaches zero, they are eliminated.

What you need to have to get started

Many bars, recreation centres, and Canadian basements and garages have a dartboard setup, and that’s probably where you should start. You’ll need a board (hung with the bullseye 5 feet and 8 inches from the ground), and a line marking marking the oche 7 feet and 9¼ inches from the board. You’ll also need at least three darts.

If you’re building your own set-up, in addition to a board and a couple sets of darts, you’ll want a backboard (because not every dart you throw is going to land in the board) and a mat to protect the floor from stray missiles.

What you need to do to get started

Technically, all you need to do is throw the darts at the target. However, here are a couple of basic pointers on technique.

The stance: Stand at the oche with the foot on your side forward (if you are right-handed, right foot forward). Take a comfortable balanced stance, with most of your weight on your front foot. You can either be sideways, so that your shoulder lines up with the board, or at an angle. For a further breakdown of darts stance, check out this guide.

Grip: There’s a fair deal of variety here, so do what you feel comfortable with. Try for a light but steady grip. Don’t squeeze the darts.

Aiming: Point your elbow straight at the board, and find a line of sight from your dominant eye through your hand directly to the precise spot you want to hit. Don’t just chuck the darts in the general area you are aiming for; pick a precise spot and focus on that.

Throwing: When you throw darts, all of the motion should be in the arm. Try to keep the rest of your body still. Keep your eye on the target as you pull the dart back, and follow through after you release it until your hand is pointing at the target. The trick here is consistency. Find a technique that’s comfortable, and then stick to it, and make minor aim adjustments.

For a good visual breakdown of the whole process, check out this tutorial from Canadian darts pro John Norman Jr.

Top tips:

  • Line up the dart your are throwing with your dominant eye.
  • Follow through.
  • Keep your body still, to the shoulder. Your arm should be the only thing that moves.
  • Look at the exact spot you want to hit, and throw at that, not just the general area.
  • Be consistent. Try to use an identical overall technique every throw, and then make small adjustments from there.
  • Darts performance requires psychological poise. This means that it’s an excellent game for psychological warfare. Get in your opponent’s head.
  • Try out a variety of games to keep it fresh.
  • If you are a beginner and playing for points, aim at the 14, rather than the 20. The number arrangement on the board is designed to penalize inaccuracy, which is why the 20 is next to the 1 and 5. The 14 is next to the 11 and 9, which gives a better overall average assuming you’ll miss a few.

More Info: cbc.ca

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