Darts: How to Play and Win Every Time

by Mike Jones

Darts is a fun game that can also be played as a competitive sport at the very highest levels. The game can be played at home and is a regular pastime at bars and pubs around the globe, mostly in places like Western Europe, Canada and the United States. In the following article we will explain the various basics of the game, including a definition of darts and their history, the general rules of darts and how to play, and a few tips for excelling at the sport and becoming a champion.

What Is Darts?

Darts is a game or sport that involves throwing small, pointed missiles at a fixed, circular board. The game is usually played between two opposing players, but it can also be played in teams of 2 or 4 at the highest levels of competition. There are many variations within the game of darts, but the most popular version of the game is known as "501."

Brief History of Darts

The game of darts got its start in the United Kingdom, somewhere around the mid 1800s. As the story goes, the game was invented by soldiers who had some time to kill between battles. These soldiers would throw short arrows at tree trunks or the bottom of a barrel, with each thrower aiming at a certain portion of the target. When played using a barrel, eventually the wood would dry out, causing cracks to form in it. This created "sections" within the target, some larger and some smaller than others. The soldiers would assign points based on the size of the section, with more points being given to the player who landed his arrow in the smaller sections of the barrel.

As time went on, the game began to slowly evolve into the form we know today, and it became a popular diversion for patrons in pubs throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. According to historians, some woodworkers even began to pay for their drink tabs by making homemade dartboards and giving them to the pubs. The dartboard-or target-used to be known as a "butt," deriving from the French word for "target." The first set of proper darts was crafted using wood, lead for weights, and turkey feathers for stabilization.

Rules of Darts and How to Play

Rules of Darts and How to Play
Rules of Darts and How to Play

As we said in the introduction, many variations of darts now exist and all of these variations are popular in bars and pubs around the globe. However, the game of 501 is the most popular variation of the game and the one most played at the competitive level. For that reason, here we will focus primarily on the game of 501.

The correct placement of a fixed dart board is 5 feet 8 inches from the ground, with the bull's eye, or very center of the board, as the reference point. Players stand roughly 8 feet (7 feet 9 inches) from the front of the dart board, where there is usually a toe line drawn on the ground to ensure players do not step any closer to the board.

The dart board is divided much like a pie, with 20 equally-sized slices or sections and a small circle in the middle known as the bull's eye. Each section is numbered one through 20, but the numbers do not appear in side-by-side order, but are rather randomly placed around the board. At the top of each numbered section there is smaller section outlined in wire. This is known as the "double section." Players who throw their dart into this section are awarded twice the point value of the numbered space. For example, if a dart lands in the double section of the number 10 space, that throw is worth 20 points. There is also a smaller section within each numbered space, about half-way down towards the bull's eye. This is known as the" triple section." Darts that land in this section are awarded three-times the numerical value of that space. For example, should a player land his dart in the triple section of the number 19 space, that dart throw is worth 19 x 3, or 57 points.

The center circle of the dart board, or bull's eye, is worth 50 points.

According to the governing body of darts, the Professional Darts Corporation, each player (or team) starts the game with a total of 501 points. The goal of the game is to work that point total down to zero, by scoring points with your throws and subtracting them off your total score at the time.

The two sides in a dart game alternate turns, with each turn consisting of three dart throws per turn. At the end of each turn, the total number accrued by those three dart throws is subtracted from 501 (or whatever score the player started at when beginning his turn). Let's look at an example:

At the start of the game each player has a total of 501 points. Player one hits the 16 space with his first dart, the 10 space with his second dart, and the "double section" of the 20 space with his third dart. His total with the three accrued darts: 16+10+40 (2×20) = 66. Now, subtract that total from 501 and the new total, from which he will start on his second turn, is 435 (501-66) points.

Next it is player two's turn to throw his three darts. He hits the "triple" 17 space with his first dart, the 1 space with his second dart, and the 18 space with his third dart. These three throws add up to 70 (51 + 1 + 18). And his new total is 431 (501-70).

As you can see, the aim of 501 is to accrue as many points as you can with each of your three-dart turns in order to reduce your total score. To accomplish this, many of the world's most accomplished players shoot only at the high numbers on the dart board in the beginning and middle portions of the game. In fact, the REALLY good players tend to aim at the "triple" sections of those high-numbered spaces in an attempt to bring their score down rapidly.

With this strategy in mind, why would it even be necessary for a dart player to ever shoot at the lower numbers on the board? The answer: because they have to land exactly on zero to win the game. Let's look at an example:

Say a player has 43 points when his turn to throw comes around again. To win the game, that player will have to land EXACTLY on zero or the turn will go over to his opponent. So with 43 points, Player 1 fires a 20 with his first dart and a 19 with his second dart. He now has 39 points, so with his third dart he must hit a 4 to win. This can be accomplished in two ways: he could simply hit the 4 space with his final dart, or he can hit the double section of the 2 space, which would also amount to 4 points. However, if the player fails to get 4 points exactly with his third part, one of two things will happen. If the player goes under the final total, by hitting a 2, for example, with his final dart, the turn will go over to his opponent and the player's new total will be 2 (43 - 41)-the total number accrued by his three darts. If the player goes over the total needed (43), by hitting a 5 or higher with his final dart, the turn will go over to his opponent and his score will revert back to 43-the total number of points at which he started his previous turn.

Alternating play continues in darts until one player is able to land exactly on zero. However, if neither team is able to accomplish this goal after 20 turns each, the player with the lowest point total is declared the winner.

Some variations of 501 make the game even more difficult, such as the variation with the "double out" rule. In this variation, a player must reach EXACTLY zero points by hitting a double section with his final dart. In other words, if a player has only 2 points left when his turn to throw comes around, he cannot win by simply throwing at the number 2 space. Instead he MUST aim for the double section of space number 1 to accomplish this goal. If he fails, his point total stays at 2 and the turn goes over to his opponent.

Darts is a game of great skill, terrific accuracy and plenty of strategy. Next we will look at a few tips that will help you improve your game.

Tips for Winning at Darts

Below are just a few tips for consistently winning at darts and improving your overall play.

The Good Stance

To become a great darts player you will have to develop a good stance. According to professional players, the best darts stance is as follows: Start with your feet about shoulder's width apart. If you throw with your right hand, place your right foot just behind the toe line and bend at the knees ever so slightly. Keep your left foot slightly behind your right foot for balance and you are ready for the perfect throw.

The Mechanics of a Good Throw

When holding the dart, you should grasp it about an inch below the tip. Bend your arm into an "L" shape, with the top or front portion of your arm parallel to the dart board. This will help with your aim. Pick out the number you plan to hit and zero in on it with your eyes. Bring your hand back about four to six inches-whatever is comfortable-just to the right of your right eye. Use a smooth-and not jerky-motion as you throw and release the dart. Follow through until your arm is completely straightened out and parallel to the floor.

Practice Makes Perfect

As with any game or sport, the more you practice at darts the better you will become. A good way to practice is to go through a session in which your goal is to hit every number in succession, beginning with space 1 and continuing until you get to space 20. Once you have mastered this, you can start practicing with the double and triple sections of each number-sections that will help you reduce your point total more rapidly. Finally, once you feel entirely comfortable with all of the numbers on the dart board, take some time to practice hitting the bull's eye. With the highest point total on the board, being able to hit the bull's eye consistently can really come in handy when playing competitively.

About Mike Jones

As a child of the 80's, my fondest gaming memories are playing Pitfall, Frogger, Kaboom! and Chopper Command on our old Atari 8600. These days I've been rocking the Nintendo Classic and learning some new card and board games with the family."

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