Friday, May 10, 2019

How to Master the Sport of Darts

I recently reread one of my favorite dart books.  It is called How to Master the Sport of Darts, by George Silberzahn.  It is not my favorite because it offers sage advice on how to play darts (though it does) but rather because of the hidden gem inside that you would never even guess at from the title or the cover: the entire second half of the book is called WYBMADIITY, and it is dedicated to American darts legends reflecting on their careers. Good stuff.

The first half of the book is aimed at those new to the sport, I think, as it offers solid advice on how to practice and how to think about darts.  I will not dwell on this part since I personally did not get that much out of it, but that is not to say that it is not worth your time to read.  After all, Mr. Silberzahn is a darts legend himself, well laden with his own accolades, and what's more, he has dedicated himself tirelessly to helping dart players all over the world become better darters through schools and online forums.

I want to spend a few moments jotting down my take-aways from the section called WYBMADIITY.  This section really spoke to me and I am so glad Mr. Silberzahn took the time to include it.  Listening to legends speak about their careers and what darts was like back in the day is immensely enjoyable and quite engrossing. I need to spend some time interviewing dart players myself!

First, throughout all of the legends I noticed a few commonalities that are worth noting:

  1. Many of them take the time to state they don't aim the dart, they just shoot it at the target. I find this funny (funny peculiar, not funny haha). I have never seen anyone, no matter how novice they were, try to aim a dart.  The very, very natural human tendency when throwing anything is to look at the target and let 'er rip.  Funny that so many of the legends felt this was important to mention.
  2. Natural vs lots of practice. Most of the legends talk about how there are two kinds of dart players:  those to whom the act of throwing a dart accurately comes naturally, and those who require tons and tons of practice to be one of the best.  Oddly, I think they break down to about half and half. This is encouraging to me.  It means that practice can get me there.
  3. Most of them mention how important it is to have good shoes!  I could not agree more.
  4. They all HATE to lose!  You will find that virtually every single legend talks in some way about their utter distaste for losing a dart game.  Many will discuss how they are still polite to their opponents but they still really, really hated to lose.  This is interesting to me and perhaps my most salient take-away.  I need to develop this, if indeed it can be developed.
  5. They virtually all, and I mean ALL, played money games.  I have personally always rejected the idea of playing for money outright, but perhaps I am wrong in this attitude. I think I can afford to lose a two-spot to a friend.

Now on to the Legends.  The numbers after each point is the page number and paragraph where I pulled the info.  I don't know why I started doing this, but I forgot to do it with some of the later legends.  I guess so if I ever wanted to go back and get more context I could.  Sounds like something I would do.

  • Hated to lose. (54.2)
  • He believes that playing for money sharpens your game. (54.5)
  • Like me, he found that eating before a match or a tournament dulled you.  I don't know if it is food coma, or what, but he and I agree on this point. (56.4)
  • He owned a bar called the Mt. Royal Inn, in NJ which became the Mecca of darts in that era (on the east coast anyway).  I would like to visit there sometime! (57.4)
  • Signature Dart: 21 and 24 gram "Diamond Back" from sponsor Fansteel,  Brass (it was a mistake not to go straight to tungsten). Later, the signature dart was the "Snake" tungsten. (59.3)

  • Again, loved to play for money. (62.1)
  • I found it fascinating that players from Philly dominated the NAODT in 1973 using wooden darts! I might have to take some Widdies to league with me hahaha. (64.1)
  • When at the top of his game used a pencil thin brass dart with solid plastic flights that weighed 16 grams. Used these for four years. "Had them made" which I don't know what that means. He also played around a lot with different darts and determined that the dart itself makes no difference. He rarely stuck with the same dart. Personally, I find this extremely validating.  I am always switching between darts. (64.3)
  • (Of course) he hated losing. (65.4)
  • This is cool: he covered his dartboard with newspaper to analyze his misses. Then, studying the scattershot miss pattern, figured out what he was going to do to correct it. (65.5)
  • When he practiced at home, his dog jumping around didn't bother him. He used this as a way to prepare for tournaments so that he could ignore distractions better. (66.1) I also had a dog that would love to hang around me while I practiced at home.  However, I always new where she was.  I was paranoid that a bounce out would hit her so I kept her behind the oche at all times.
  • "If you're not stretched to a higher level, you don't play to a higher level. Good play breeds good play. Good players make everyone around them better." (67.1) Love this quote.
  • "Darts is a repetition game, but after that it becomes a mind game. It is like throwing a 180. If you've never done it in practice you won't do it in competition. But once you do it in practice it'll come in competition." (67.2) . I also love this quote.  It is very encouraging in a way.
  • He was a slow methodical player and didn't let anyone rush him. Before each match he was going to throw 15 to 21 darts and impatience on the part of the opposing player be damned. (68.1)
  • Engaged in gamesmanship. Tried to get other players thinking about their mechanics, was deliberately slow, pulled darts one by one, excused himself to the bathroom, etc. (68.4) . This makes me a little sad to read.  I find this behavior very unsportsmanlike. Perhaps it was just that era and I shouldn't judge tho.
  • In 1975 he became sponsored by Kwiz darts (Bob McLeod was the Kwiz agent in America) and got a signature dart with his name on it but doesn't say what kind of dart it was. (70.5)

  • His first real dart was a 19 gram brass dart with feather flights and he stayed with it for a long time but he eventually switched to a plastic flight (which I am assuming means the plastic molded all in one). Then switched to a 22 gram dart with three ridges, which was eventually produced by Fansteel as his signature dart, but it is unclear if this is a brass or a tungsten dart. This dart was dressed in a small aluminum Accudart stem and a standard plastic flight. Never changed darts after that and throws the same dart even now! (74.1)
  • Liked to play for money. Felt it was a great confidence builder. (76/77)
  • Hated to lose but kept his cool. Tried to be a gentleman about losing. (77.4)

  • If he lost he had to get even. (84.1)
  • Signature Darts: 24 gram with aluminum stems and tear drop flights from Accudart.  Does not specify brass or tungsten, but it was 1988 so prolly tungsten.  Won NAODT with widdies! This was mentioned by another legend, how the Philly players dominated tournaments with wooden darts.  (84.4)
  • Hated to lose. Could not tolerate losing. (86.2)  I love this phraseology. It conjures the image of the body physically rejecting failure.
  • Played money matches, sometimes for big money.
  • He believes that partners requires compatibility. They can't blame each other for bad shooting. A pat on the back is good too. (89.4)
  • One of my favorite stories from all the legends reflections in this book is one Ray tells about how Circus Circus came to town and all the dart players lined up at the balloon popping booth winning all the prizes.  Eventually they were asked to leave! (90.5) I have had two instances in my life in which I have won prizes at such booths, and think on them fondly.  I was never asked to leave, but that is because I never played more than one or two games.  But still, love this story.

  • Personal note: of all the legends that have reflections in this book, I enjoyed Julie's the most.  I don't know why, but her stories really appeal to me.
  • Unlike many of the others who got their start because they were somehow associated with a bar, or a restaurant, Julie got hers because she was in the darts business from a young age. Her father owned a shop called Eagle Darts, which she eventually worked for. She has also worked for DMI and Fansteel. (92/93)
  • I love this story: When she was young, her father one day brought home a bunch of darts stuff and dumped it on the kitchen counter and announce that "Were all going to play darts". A dartboard got hung in the family room (after all, darts was now a family activity) as opposed to being relegated to the basement or the garage like most folks. What a wonderful gift her father gave her and her siblings.  What's more, as we all know, "a family that plays together, stays together". This story is so Normal Rockwell, I just love it. (93.5)
  • She says that she liked the heavier darts, and that from the beginning she threw a smooth tapered 32 gram dart. (94.1) . I would dearly love to see that dart she threw.
  • She was sponsored by Spalding in the 80s. Shot with brass until copper tungsten was available but she didn't like it due to the oxidation. (94.2) . I find this odd.  I personally absolutely love copper tungsten darts, and you would think that a player like Julie, who appreciated a smooth darts, would also appreciate the oxidation that comes with copper tungsten.
  • Didn't like to lose. Better now than before but still does not like it. (96.4)
  • I love this story: In 1975 at the tender age of 17 she won the NAODT. After she won it, she was not only interviewed but then had to go back and sit in a high school classroom and think about how she was the best dart player in all of North America. (97.4) What a feat. I won a few trophies in high school myself but never for darts (they were for debate).  I know the feeling that comes with sitting in a classroom full of people that have absolutely no idea that you accomplished something awesome. It is isolating, and exhilarating at the same time.
  • She says that we have a problem in America with how sloppily dart players dress. We need people to dress up more. (98.3) . I couldn't agree more!
  • I absolutely love this notion: She loved playing money matches, especially to prepare for a tournament. Her philosophy is that 20 dollars will allow you to decide how much pressure you want. 20 one dollar games? 2 ten dollar games? How about 10 two dollar games? (99.4)
  • Favorite story of them all:  While on a business trip to Cincinnati Ohio, Julie, seven months pregnant at the time, was cooling her heels in a bar, throwing darts casually.  She didn't have anything else on her agenda other than to kill time.  In walks a big "Texan looking" guy wearing a big Texan looking hat.  He says to the bartender: "I'm looking for a money game. I'm pretty good, and I'm looking for a money game."  Bar tender points over to the diminutive lady by boards, barefoot and pregnant, and says "she'll play you."  With dollar signs in his eyes, and an under-appreciation of his opponent, he challenges Julie to $10 a game.  She accepts.  She takes $50 off him in five straight games before he slinks off with his tail between his legs.  I may have gotten a few details wrong, but I like my telling of the story :)

  • At the tender she of 12 she got her start in darts. I looked her up on Wikipedia to learn when that might have been and was surprised to learn she was born in or about 1923, placing the start of her fascination at about 1935.
  • I found her story poignant. While still a teenager she almost won a guy's bakery right off him, ruining him and his family but in the last few darts decided to throw the game. First Lady of Darts is right: she had skill and heart. After that she lived a very full life before she ever threw a dart again, including raising three kids and burying a husband.
  • Her first sponsorship was with Kwiz who made her a brass version of her Widdie darts. How I would love to see those! Later she was sponsored by Sportcraft, who gave her her choice of Darts. She chose John Lowe tungsten darts with a 1.25" stem and standard flights.
  • As an erstwhile numismatist I appreciated this story:  In 1974 she won the Cutty Sark Open, which included a cup-style trophy.  After the win she was standing outside the building where the tourney took place with her trophy.  Along walks a guy, oblivious as passersby seem to be, and drops a dime into the trophy thinking it was a beggar's cup!  She kept the dime in the trophy as a fine memory of the event.  In 1974, the silver coin era was already 10 years in the past, but still, that dime could have been anything from a brand new shiny 1974 FDR dime to a Mercury Head dime.  I wish I could see it.  I wonder if she has a picture of it anywhere.
  • She would console the people she best because she knew how much it hurt to lose. First Lady of Darts, right there.

  • Practiced bull a lot because "if you control the bull you control the game".
  • Sometimes practiced at 8'6" so that the 8' line seemed closer.  This is a brilliant idea.  I am going to try it during my next practice session.
  • Used Silver Trim metal darts with Silver Trim flights. Unclear on the type of metal. When sponsored by Kwiz they copied the silver Trim dart and made it 15 grams and brass.  once again, I wish I could see pictures of all their favored, and signature darts.

  • Recommends moving point darts to everyone. Loves them.
  • Started the coal cracker trend (invented them?) Because he was always cutting his flights down.
  • I notice that I am starting to take fewer notes on the players!


  • Started after he got out of the service in 1959 which prolly makes him the same age as my dad. Payed American darts for most of his early career. 
  • Even though he showed early brilliance, quickly becoming the anchor of his first team, he was dissatisfied. He set a goal to raise his average two points per year and he followed through, succeeding. 
  • The way he described his throw is very interesting and I must say, the exact opposite of the typical advice: he dipped his body down on bended knee during draw back, and then sprang forward bodily during the throw. Highly unusual!
  • I love it that he practiced every day and then went out and "hustled" darts on the weekend. This implies that not only did he love money games but that he had a strategy for tricking his opponent into thinking he might win!!
  • Interesting that they won a tournament where you had to use a "Deco" dart as of to the wooden darts they were used to. I wonder what a Deco dart is!!
  • A few of the legends talked about getting the "Yips". Danny got them and they were difficult to overcome. I don't know anything at all about Eric Bristow, but Danny implies that the Yips did him in! I have never had the Yips myself. I can't even imagine what they are like. 
  • One story I found interesting was that he was tricked into playing a high dollar first-to-26 match against Rick Ney, who was one of the best in the country at the time and ended up destroying him. Not just during that match, but his overall confidence and subsequently his career as well. That's already a sad story in my eyes, but Danny always felt really bad about killing the career of a good guy and a great player.
  • "The crowd never bothered me anywhere I played, even in England where the guys from Scotland were dropping their pants." Seriously? Who fucking does that?
  • I love it that he always played with the underdog to help them and if a friend of his got hustled he would always win the money back for him. What a great guy. 
  • He mentions a player named Rick Nye several times but I am unsure if this is a misspelling of Ney or if it really is a different player. 

Anyway.  Those are the American Darts Legends covered in this book.  I highly recommend this book.  Fascinating read!

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