Darts, once a game of the working class man is now a very serious competitive sport with a huge following. It is a game requiring a keen eye, a steady hand, nerves of steel and a quick, mathematical brain.

These days, World Champion dart players are rich beyond the wildest dreams of my father-in-law, who was himself a World Champion - unfortunately before there was any real money in it.

The game itself is played by throwing rounds of three darts at a circular board, traditionally made of elm, 2 inches thick and 18 inches diameter. The front surface is divided into 20 equal segments, numbered randomly such that consecutive numbers are never next to each other. The board also has circular rings marked on it, the outer ring is the double, the inner is the treble and at the centre of the board is the bull's eye, divided into a ring scoring 25 and the small inner circle is a double worth 50.

The darts themselves are pointed metal 'arrows', varying slightly in weight and length, but generally about 4-5 inches long. Modern darts are made of tungsten so that a lot of weight can be combined with a slim shape, and they have plastic flights instead of the traditional feather variety. Every player has his own individual preference and finds it difficult to play with another player's darts.

The dart board should be mounted on a wall with the centre 5 feet 8 inches above the floor. Players stand with their toe against a line called the hockey which is 9 feet from the wall.

There are many different games of darts, often with regional variations, but the usual competitive game is 301 or 501, sometimes played with a 'double-in' (where you can't start scoring until you have thrown a double), but always the player must finish on a double. The total score achieved in each three-dart round is subtracted from the previous total, the game ends when the winner reaches zero on a double finish.

2 Dart Finishes

Try to finish on an even double on the second dart.

This means that if you miss and score a single, you still have the opportunity to go for a double with your third dart.

D16, D18 and D20 are the most popular finishes.

D = double
T = treble

61	25	D18		82	T14	D20
62	T10	D16		83	T17	D16
63	T9	D18		84	T16	D18
64	T8	D20		85	T15	D20
65	25	D20		86	T18	D16
66	T10	D18		87	T17	D18
67	T17	D18		88	T16	D20
68	T12	D16		89	T19	D16
69	T11	D18		90	T18	D18
70	T10	D20		91	T17	D20
71	T13	D16		92	T20	D16
72	T12	D18		93	T19	D18
73	T11	D20		94	T18	D20
74	T14	D16		95	T15	Bull
75	T13	D18		96	T20	D18
76	T12	D20		97	T19	D20
77	T19	D10		98	T16	Bull
78	T14	D18		100	T20	D20
79	T13	D20		104	T18	Bull
80	T16	D16		107	T19	Bull
81	T15	D18		110	T20	Bull
Ref: a small piece of paper found in a drawer, carefully hand-written by my father-in-law. Thanks pa!

Whatever is claimed about darts being a "very serious competitive sport", it also remains a top class bar game. This is my experience of it as a member of my college darts second team:

To be honest, at division 4 level, darts here is not really about the sport itself. It is very much a social event. Games are played in various bars around the University colleges and are a great way to visit places and meet people you wouldn't do otherwise. It is also (to fit into the stereotype of the sport) very much about drinking. Players drink before they play. They drink after they play. Usually, the loser of a singles match buys the victor a drink. Of course, beer is the darts players' drink of choice. Many players claim that they cannot relax enough to play well without drinking alcohol.

Matches are contested by two teams, each comprising of eight players. Each player plays one singles game and one doubles game; there are therefore a total of twelve legs played. Generally the singles are played at the start, usually with the best players playing first. The doubles is more tactical - does the captain put his best players together or spread them around? Double in - double out is employed, with singles played from 401 and doubles 601. Most colleges operate a systeming of 'trousering' where losing without doubling in is punished by being required to run around a certain area with your trousers around your ankles. There are also certain unwritten rules - players should go for the bullseye on their opening shot and after busting there should be no 'practice darts'

Technique is not hugely important at this level. A much more useful attribute is bottle - the ability to keep your head (and your trousers) with 16 semi-coherent students shouting insults at you is essential. This is because banter is another integeral part of the game.

Banter is use for both intimidation and atmosphere. Lines such as "3 on the board scores more" (referring to missing the target), "ladies darts" (going for the 19, not 20) and "no sense of humour" (deliberately avoiding wanker's fifty) must be shouted in unison by the non-throwing team. For this to be fully appreciated, a general understanding of terms is essential. As examples, 'wanker's fifty' is got by shooting 12, 18, 20, 'breakfast' is 1, 5, 20 and 'champagne' is a prefix used to indicate the tripled versions of these.

Due to the non-serious attitude taken about playing, it is easy for novices to take up league darts, especially if part of a college with multiple teams.

In addition to playing a standard game requiring a score of 301, 501 or whatever there are a number of other variations of games that can be played on a darts board.

One possibility which is very good for practicing your aim is round the clock. In this game the players (any number of people can play from one up) take it in turns to throw three darts. The aim is to hit each number of the board in numerical order, starting with one and working round to twenty, and then the bull. Once one number has been hit the players moves on to the next. If a player hits three sequential numbers in their turn then they get another go. More difficult variations on this theme include requiring three of each number (counting doubles and trebles as two and three respectively) or requiring doubles instead of singles.

A good game for many players (between 3 and 20) is killer. As the name suggests the aim is to become "killer" and eliminate all the other players. After deciding playing order (usually by each throwing one dart and playing in order of how close the darts go to the bull) each player throws a single dart at the board left handed (left handed players throw right handed). Whichever number the player hits becomes their number. If a player misses or hits another player's number then they throw again and continue to do so until they hit a number that hasn't been taken.

The players then take it in turns to throw three darts. Each time they hit their own number they gain one life. Once a player acquires three lives they become killer and may aim at other players. Each time a killer hits another player they lose a life. Doubles and trebles count as two and three lives respectively while the bull (if it isn't a players number) counts as one life for a non-killer or one life of everyone else for a killer. If a player's number is hit by a killer when they have no lives they are dead and removed from the game. Generally players who haven't yet had a throw are immune from being killed.

The most amusing aspect of the game is the selection of targets. Very few players play to actually win instead playing to survive or aiming at people to settle vendetas left over from earlier games. Due to the nature of the game it is easy for a good player to be easily killed by two or three much weaker players and so good darts players rarely win games of killer, in fact it's quite common for poor players who aren't seen as a threat to win. If all players are playing competitively killer is an interesting experiment in game theory.

A more difficult and complicated variation is that if a killer hits themselves then they lose a life while if a non-killer hits another player they gain a life. This can be particularly irritating when another player has the number next to you and you accidentally lose yourself three lives while aiming at them.

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