Sport Darts


Written by Pai Yao

This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of World Gaming magazine.

A sport traditionally associated with beer swilling, overweight, middle-aged men is currently taking the world by storm!

Over the last 20 years everything has got faster, shorter and more “pumped up”. Snowboarding, skateboarding, base jumping, Twenty20 cricket, high stakes poker, lingerie football and hot dog eating contests are what the next generation of portable-headphone-wearing, smart-phone-obsessed, must-have-it-now adrenaline junkies appear to be wanting. The exception to this is a sport played by mostly overweight, beer guzzling middle-aged men. And guess what? People love it!

First we saw it with poker and now we can welcome the new kid on the block – darts. That’s right, darts. Darts is big business in western Europe both as a live spectator sport and as a television ratings bonanza. It just goes to show how hard it really is to predict what people want to watch on TV.

Huge rooms that look more like a Munich beer hall than a sporting arena host some of the hottest sportsmen on the planet. Fans cram in and pay big money to sing, drink and cheer as their heroes go head-to-head. It’s hard to know why this new breed of fan loves the sport so much, but it seems as much to do with the party atmosphere as the competition.

The success has stemmed from Britain where drinking pints and throwing darts at a dartboard is a national hobby. It is growing quickly though and the game is starting to spread its claws into the rest of Europe. Anywhere with a steady supply of beer drinking yobs that want to dress up, sing and cheer should be embracing this new phenomenon. The game is popular outside Great Britain in Ireland, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, the United States, Canada and Australia.

It’s a simple game. The circular board is split into 20 equally sized pie-slices, each with a score from 1 to 20. Hit the slice in the outer ring and you score double, hit the slice in the inner ring and you score triple. Hitting the outer bull will score 25 points and the red bullseye (usually simply referred to as the “bull”) is worth 50 points. Your score starts at 501 and you score backwards down to zero but need to finish on a double. That’s pretty much it!

Two players, some darts and a dartboard are all you need (well, it’s also kind of cool to have a man with a microphone yelling out the scores). Each player stands 2.37 meters away from the board and takes turns throwing three darts in a row attempting to score as many points as they can in one visit, the highest possible score being that of 180 (three triple 20s). When a player throws 180 it’s over to that man on the microphone who yells out the score in much the same way a ring announcer in boxing does – “one hundred and eeeeeeiiiiightyyyyyy!”.

The two main events each year on the professional circuit are the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) World Darts Championship and the Premier League. This year’s World Championship will boast 72 of the world’s best players from 20 countries who will be vying for the title of World Champion. The prize money is a staggering £1,000,000 (HK$12.5 million) with the winner taking home a cool £200,000 (HK$2.5 million). Last year’s winner Adrian Lewis successfully defended his title and he will be looking for a three-peat performance this year. This is the best tournament on the calendar each year, running from mid-December with the final taking place on 1 January.

In 2005 the Premier League was born and it has since become Britain’s largest indoor sporting event. It features eight of the world’s best players who play weekly in a double round-robin format over a 14-week period. Matches are played in different cities each week across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland and venues are generally sold out well in advance. Phil Taylor is the only player to have played in all of the eight years of the Premier League and he has certainly made it his own. He has won the title six times and broken just about every record there is from the highest average in a season to the longest unbeaten run of wins. Sky Sports have the television rights and beam it across Europe and even as far as Australia for fans of Australian player Simon “The Wizard” Whitlock. Next year’s Premier League commences on 7 February and concludes with the play-offs on 16 May at the O2 Arena in London.

The history of darts
The idea of man throwing or shooting things at a target is not new. From bows and arrows to bullets to throwing axes or knives, it’s a simple idea that has entertained the masses for many years. Thought to have originated around the time of the English King Henry VIII, the game was pioneered by archers (darts are commonly known as “arrows”) who wanted to keep their aim sharp. They practiced by throwing specially shortened arrows at the bottom of a wine or ale barrel. However, the modern game of darts as we know it today is actually a lot younger than you may think, originating late in the 19th century in English pubs where they used to throw darts at a wooden board. It wasn’t until they started binding together sisal fibers that the boards were produced in large quantities and the game became standard entertainment for pub goers. The idea that the boards used to be made out of animal hair appears to be a myth. Brian Gamlin, a carpenter from Lancashire, England, invented the standard dartboard numbering layout in 1896.

Phil “The Power” Taylor is the best player to ever throw a dart and no argument can be made to the contrary. He has a record 15 World Championship titles, 6 Premier League titles and over 150 other professional titles. His list of sporting achievements is up there with any successful sportsman competing in any other sport. He won his first World Championship in 1990 and such is his dominance he is still the world number one some 22 years later.

Raymond “Barney” van Barneveld hails from the Netherlands and is one of the most popular players on the circuit. He regularly enters the stage to chants of “Barney Army” and has a big legion of fans. He has five World Championship titles and was the world number one for the first half of 2008.

From left to right: Phil Taylor, Adrian Lewis, Simon Whitlock and Raymond Van Barneveld

From left to right: Phil Taylor, Adrian Lewis, Simon Whitlock and Raymond Van Barneveld

Simon “The Wizard” Whitlock is an Australian darts player and like Barney has a very strong fan base. He had a great tournament in the Premier League earlier this year when he finished runner up in the final to Phil Taylor. The man best known for his dreadlocks and goatee beard has been supremely consistent over the last two years and we are expecting big things from him at next year’s World Championship and Premier League.

Darts in Asia
The home of the game in Asia is Hong Kong, which comes as no surprise seeing that it was a British colony. In Hong Kong play tends to be on electronic dartboards instead of the traditional ones. The great thing about these electronic boards is that you don’t need anyone to keep score. Considering that billiard-derived games like snooker and pool have become huge in Asia it’s very easy to see why a game like darts could also take off in this part of the world.

There are plenty of bars and clubs around Macau with either electronic or traditional darts boards, such as The Roadhouse, in the Wong Chiu area, near Sands Macau. Why not pop on in to a bar, throw a few arrows and see if you’ve got what it takes to force your way into the Premier League?