I've played competitive darts in the US for the past 10 years. I'm now (temporarily) living in the UK and traveling around and playing tournaments. I experience and observe things in UK darts that are different from that as I knew it in the US. This is the first in a series of periodic postings to tell the 'Yanks' back in the US what darts are like in the UK. In the process I hope to provide light reading to all of you in this newsgroup, teach those from the US what it's like to play here, and from time to time, provide those in the UK and elsewhere a glimpse of what darting is like in the US. Now let's begin with my first subject: 501.
Ah yes, 501. The international game played round the world. Basically, it's the 'only' game that you'll play at tournaments outside of North America. The 'majors' that I've played in so far had only one event that I could enter - Open Singles 501. For the most part, there were no blind draw events, no open doubles, no mixed doubles, or triples....nothing but singles. Cricket as I knew it is not played here at all. In only two of the tournaments were there deviations from this, one had a blind draw and two of them had a 'pairs' event (aka 'Doubles', more on this in a future posting). The 501 format is best 3 of 5, single elimination. If you lose, your weekend is over, not like in the US where you'll play in many events throughout the whole event. In the BDO run tournaments, you reach into a bag and pull out a small ball, if it's green you throw first in the 1st, 3rd, & 5th legs (ie odd number legs) and the other person throws first in the 2nd & 4th legs. No flip of the coin to 'diddle for the middle', no 'diddle for the middle' in the tiebreaker. The entry fees have averaged about 5-7 GBP (~$8-$12). First place is generally in the 700-1200 GBP range (~$1170-$2000). Payouts generally go out to the Top 16 or Top 8. You must send in your money to 'pre-enter' the tournaments. When you arrive, the draws are posted with the board number and the time that you'll play. Approximately 15-20 minutes before your playing time, an announcement will go out for all players playing at that time slot to approach the tournament desk. When both players of a match arrive, one person is asked to reach into a bag and pull out a colored ball to see who goes first. Then both of you are sent to your board. You play your game, the winner reports the results and loser stays behind to chalk the next game. This concept of the 'loser' chalking the next match keeps the events moving right along. I always hated trying to find a chalker in the US tournaments. The large BDO events play the semi's and finals on stage. Large crowds stay and watch the staged semis and finals, not like in the US where people flee the dart hall after losing. The level of tournament play here is incredibly high. To be competitive, you must finish a game of 501 in 18 darts (27.83 PPD) or less. There are many people who often finish in 12 to 15 darts. To give you a perspective on just how high the overall level is here, do a search on the BDO and find their webpage that shows the results of their 'County League' system and look at the PPD averages of not only the top players but also those at the bottom....for that matter, look at the PPDs of the women too...it's phenomenal!
The turnout for these events is fantastic. At the Welsh Open last year, there were over 750 men in the Open Singles 501 event. It made big US tournaments look small, and I've been to the North American Open in Las Vegas two times (once as an ADO West All-Star member) and I've also been to the Bullshooter in Chicago. With the UK's close proximity to Europe, there is always a contingent of 'International' players at the UK events. It's common to hear several different languages being spoken amongst the players. Different cultures is not something that you get much of in the US. The affiliation for one's home country here is very strong. Many players use flights that represent the 'flag' of their country. Not one to be left out, you can guess what my flights look like...and you can almost guarantee that I'm the only one in the dart hall with USA flights. One last comment that is not directly dart related but it is a misconception that 'Yanks' often have of the UK - the beer here is not 'warm' and not 'room temperature', although it's not as cold as that in the US, it appears chilled and it's quite tasty. They have Budweiser and Miller here, but it's at premium prices. I'd rather drink the local stuff which is 10 times better and cheaper too. :)
End of Part I
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