Darts is a throwing game in which darts are thrown at a circular target (dartboard) fixed to a wall. Though various boards and rules have been used in the past, the term “darts” usually now refers to a standardised game involving a specific board design and set of rules.
As well as being a professional competitive sport, darts is a traditional pub game, commonly played in the United Kingdom, across the Commonwealth, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Republic of Ireland, the Scandinavian countries, the United States, Canada and other parts of the world.
The History of Darts
The dartboard may have its origins in the cross-section of a tree. An old name for a dartboard is “butt”; the word comes from the French word but, meaning “target”. In particular, the Yorkshire and Manchester Log End boards differ from the standard board in that they have no treble – only double and bullseye, the Manchester board being of a smaller diameter, with a playing area of only 25cm across with double and bull areas measuring just 4mm.
There is a speculation that the game originated among soldiers throwing short arrows at the bottom of the cask or at the bottom of trunks of trees. As the wood dried, cracks would develop, creating “sections”. Soon, regional standards emerged and many woodworkers supplemented bar tabs by fabricating dart boards for the local pubs.
The standard numbering plan with a 20 on top was created in 1896 by Lancashire carpenter Brian Gamlin. However, a great many other configurations have been used throughout the years and in different geographical locations. Gamlin’s layout was devised to penalise inaccuracy. Although this applies to most of the board, the left-hand side (near the 14 section) is preferred by beginners, for its concentration of larger numbers.
The Scoring of Darts
There are many games that can be played on a dartboard, but darts generally refers to a game whereby the player throws three darts per visit to the board with the goal of reducing a fixed score, commonly 501 or 301, to zero (“checking out”), with the final dart landing in either the bullseye or a double segment. A game of darts is generally contested between two players, or two teams, who take turns in throwing up to three darts.
A throw that reduces a player’s score below zero, to exactly one, or to zero but not ending with a double is known as “going bust”, with the player’s score being reset to the value prior to starting the turn, and the remainder of the turn being forfeited. A darts match is played over a fixed number of games, known as legs. A match may be divided into sets, with each set being contested as over a fixed number of legs.
Although playing straight down from 501 is standard in darts, sometimes a double must be hit to begin scoring, known as “doubling in”, with all darts thrown before hitting a double not being counted. The PDC’s World Grand Prix uses this format.
The minimum number of thrown darts required to complete a leg of 501 is nine. The most common nine dart finish consists of two 180 maximums followed by a 141 checkout, but there are many other possible ways of achieving the feat. Three 167s is considered a pure or perfect nine dart finish by some players, most notably the flamboyant Bobby George.
Professional Darts Competitions
The BDO and PDC both organise a World Professional Championship. They are held annually over the Christmas and New Year period, with the PDC championship finishing slightly earlier than the BDO tournament. The BDO World Championship has been running since 1978; the PDC World Championship started in 1994.
Both organisations hold other professional tournaments. The BDO organise the World Masters and many Open tournaments. They also organise county darts for their 66 county members in the UK including individual and team events.
The PDC’s major tournaments are the World Championship, Premier League, UK Open, Las Vegas Desert Classic, World Matchplay and the World Grand Prix. All of these are broadcast live on Sky Sports television in the UK. They also hold PDC Pro Tour events and smaller category events around the UK. Since 2007, the PDC have introduced two new televised major tournaments—the US Open and the Grand Slam of Darts.
Two Dutch independently organised major tournaments, the International Darts League and the World Darts Trophy introduced a mix of BDO and PDC players in 2006 and 2007. Both organisations allocated rankings to the tournaments, but these two events are now discontinued.
The WDF World Cup for national teams and a singles tournament has been played biennially since 1977. The WDF also organise the Europe Cup. The PDC has their own world cup – the PDC World Cup.