Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Day 14-Zen Darts, Finding The Lipstick, And Different Kinds Of Targets

Number Of Hours Practice-25
Average Number Of Darts Thrown To Checkout-43.8

Number Of Hours Practice-25
Average Number Of Darts Thrown To Checkout-43.8

The Good News: The pain is pretty much gone, to the point where I only now get a little bit of neck stiffness and a few complaints from the lower back.

Also, as you can see, with only an extra 17 hours practice, I've shaved 9 darts of my average checkout number. I didn't know that figure until I sat down to write this, and only just worked it out; my intial reaction is pleasure that it's a big drop, mixed with disappointment that it's not bigger. This is because I've worked out the way I need to be throwing to find 'the lipstick' (treble 20) more often; and funnily enough it actually came from doing a bit of research into what I could do to avoid the pain in my elbow.

Apparently, a common mistake is for beginners to release the dart and stop their arm moving at the point they let go. Not only is this a mistake in terms of looking after the joint, but also in terms of technique; it's better to let your arm follow through with the throwing motion.

I incorporated this into my practice, and though it felt a little odd at first, I found I threw with better precision, and learned at which point releasing gives me the best odds of hitting the treble. I'm finding it-and getting three darts into the 20 bed-with much greater repitition now. And with that has come the knowledge of how best to adapt that motion for the upper, middle, and lower parts of the board. So that's good too. It;s just that I've been doing it so much more I half expected my average to be in the 30s somewhere. But it's obviously not happening enough. (I know it's only halfway through the second week, but still...)

And also in the good news column, I'm still waking up every day excited about playing darts. I'm still thoroughly enjoying the practice, although I've struggled sometimes in the evening sessions to find pubs with dartboards that aren't being used (and often sometimes pubs that have a board at all, these two factors meaning only an hour's practice one day last week.)

I've also discovered what I think of as the Zen factor of darts. As someone who is generally anxious a lot of the time (usually manifesting itself in the form of guilt, or that I should be doing something more productive even during times set aside for watching a film etc, or that there is something I should be doing but I can't think of what it is) I take a great, great pleasure in losing myself in the board. All I'm there to do is get the darts inbetween the little wires, and concentrate on the technique required to do so. Then there's the logical cognitive process of the deductive scoring, and working out the best finish to checkout. Again, nothing else to worry about there. Just me, the board, and knowing that's all I have to worry about for the next two hours. And yes, I'm serious about all that.

And my finishing is improving to the point where I've stopped doing normal Round The Clock and have started playing it with doubles. I've even gotten two doubles out of three darts a few times, and I really feel like I'm learning the best way to throw to each individual one. So that's good too...

Ok. The bad news...

...isn't really that bad actually. It's just my usual problem of focus.

Yes, I train with an iPod on to keep it interesting (plus, I think this is good training for working at a distraction, as you'll never play in total silence) and this doesn't unfocus me as a rule. What does is that, on occasion, with my ever-chattering-away brain, my mind wanders. And of course, I don't realise this until I wonder why three darts are in the 9, the wall, and my groin respectively. It means I throw without concentrating, or just start rushing my throws without realising, and this costs my average dearly. Having realised it, I've started a rule: Never throw until I'm utterly certain and aware what I'm throwing for, and have told myself so. It's kind of a double check, and although it's easier to say rather than remember, I'm getting better.

And my thumbtip has healed after being cut up by repeatedly catching the burrs on the dart barrels. That should go in the good news column...

However, I've learned how far I have to go just to get to the 'Pretty Good' level.

In the book 'Murder On The Darts Board' by Justin Irwin that I'm reading-a true story by the guy who attempted to do what I'm doing, and a thoroughly good read so far, I highly recommend it-he goes to a county tournament, at which there's guys from amateur to semi-pro level, and roughly works out the average number of darts to check out across the tournament. It's 24 to 27 darts. Look above for the comparison.

Yes, I've shaved off 9 darts in a week, but I don't expect it to continue going down at that level. I should imagine that as I go on, shaving those last few off will get harder and harder. But we'll see.

I'm going to get online and look at the open county and regional tournaments coming up across the year, and set out a calendar of events I'm going to take part in, hopefully progressing further with each one as the year continues. I should hopefully have that VERY exciting (for me, anyway) list ready for next time.

Plus, there's early rumblings of my FOD retirement lasting less than a fortnight; I announced it as I felt I'd have an unfair advantage in terms of practice, but more than one FOD member has expressed a desire for me to play in one last tournament to a: give me a proper swan song, and b: for the crack of watching me buckle under the immense pressure of being the man who has played four hours a day, five days a week for several months. But it'll have to be the majority, so we'll see...

Sorry to write such a factual, here's-what's-been-going-on blog tonight. I know that's kind of the point, but I like to add a bit more of my thoughts and other factors that have been going on, but I'm pushed for time again and I have to get the important stuff out. Basically, leaving it so long inbetween blogs has meant I have a lot of updating to do here (due to an utterly avoidable laptop screen breakage that will cost £140 to fix, bastaaaaaaaaard) and therefore not allowing much time for meandering. Don't worry; there will be much meandering in future. Lucky you.

Stay Hungry,

The Straight Shooter

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Day Seven-The Actual, Physical Agony And The Ecstasy

Total Hours Practice: 8
Average Number Of Darts Thrown To Checkout: 52.4

My entire spine hurts.

My neck is stiff, my lower back aches, my trapezius muscles crunch, and either side of my right elbow is starting to complain. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the Darts Pain Barrier.

This is as a result of the first two days of the new, four hours of practice a day darts regime. I had suspicions of possible elbow complications (during my first time around with darts, I got carried away and played one day in the flat for hours. I strained the tendon in my elbow, and went out and bought an elbow support. I love darts accessories with a burning, gullible passion that is an salesman's dream, but that is a blog subject for another day) but never expected the spinal issues I'm currently experiencing.

I think this is due to A: being slightly too short to have a comfortable view of the board (just scraping 5'10 in good shoes; I think 6 foot plus and your head is at an ideal height to view the whole board, with minimal neck strain should you be there for hours at a time) thus giving me the neck strain and B: discovering I throw better with more of a lean from the oche line, thus giving me the lower back pain.

To be honest, these should pass, but bloody hell this was unexpected.

But anyway. The regime itself.

I'd forgotten how much I love to play. Darts is a fantastic game, and every throw is an opportunity. There's nothing like it, in my book. But even if you disagree, I've thoroughly enjoyed the initital sessions, even if I know there will be a time when I can't stand the sight of tungsten. I may even develop an allergy. That'd just be typical...

I've started a simple system of practice: five games of 501 (throwing three darts at a time and totalling up your score, then deducting it each time from steadily downwards from 501. You must reach zero with your last dart hitting a double. Anything over zero and you go back to whatever your score was before your last turn) and then one game of Round The World/Round The Clock (throwing upwards to 20 by hitting sequential numbers-1,2,3-then outer bullseye then centre bullseye to finish.) Then repeat the whole thing for two hours, at which point I have something to eat (either in the pub or some sort of packed lunch; so far it's all been pub) and then switch venues to another pub so I don't get cabin fever and go on a claustrophobia induced naked killing spree.

You may have noticed I'm playing in pubs, not at home. Yes, playing at home is possible, but speaking from experience, being in the house all day is a bastard (for those of you that don't know, I only work weekends as a singer. It's a nice job, but shit for your social life) so I decided to make this interesting by playing in different pubs every day (two hours in two pubs.)

I've been keeping a record of how many darts it takes me to checkout (finish) on 501 with each leg, the idea being that I can find out my average score and hopefully watch it get smaller over time, giving me a record of my progress. A bust-out is classed as 3 darts taken. The scores have ranged from the-at this stage-sublime (24) to the ridiculous (109.) Admittedly, the highest and worst scores have all come from-you guessed it-The Madhouse.

To the unititated, The Madhouse is a double 1 finish. Not only does it mean you've played a fucking shit leg of darts (as the odds are you kept hitting the single versions of whatever double you were going for-and therefore missing-andc slowly worked your way down to a pitiful double 1) but it means you're in for a nightmare. If you missed any other double on your first dart-say, double 16 (32)-and hit the single 16 instead, obviously, you'd be left with 16. This means you still have a chance of finishing on that turn with your other two darts (hit a double 8, and if you miss and hit a single 8, you can go for double 4, etc)

But with double one, you're fucked. You hit a single 1, that's it, there isn't a double 1/2; it's back to the oche. And it's the most frustrating thing in the world...

But anyway, here's the scores from the last two days (8 hours). You don't have to read this bit if you don't want to, you can just skip to the average score, but here it is, direct from the text I saved on my phone:

88, 108, 35 (64)-the number in the brackets means a decent checkout, in this case 64-44(55), 47, 42, 44, 44, 52, 58, break for dinner, 102, 33, 33, 64, 50, 75, 52, 32, 42, 54, 57, 33, 56, DAY TWO-104, 59, 47, 91, 27, 36, 32, break for dinner, 34, 61, 40, 46, 45, Change venue, 98, 47, 38, 57, 41, 40, 42, 48, break, 57, 67, 31, 40, 42, 24 (152)-we'll come back to this in a second-33, 100.

That's right; a 152 checkout. That was treble 20, treble 20, and under self-induced pressure, a double 16 to finish. I was so delighted that I couldn't stop myself from spinning around with my arms spread to face the 6 guys at the bar. They hadn't noticed either the throw or the spin fortunately, as I realised once I'd done it that it kind of looked like I was offering them all out.

Anyway, by workings (which may be wrong) the average number of darts taken to check out from those legs played is 52.4.

It's a start.

Now for my muscle soak bath. What an athelete.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Becoming A Professional Darts Player-Day TWO

First things first; I need some new darts.

Technically, I don't NEED new darts as such; I have a very nice set, and actually probably three or four other sets left with me by friends after various tournaments, but I've never seemed to get on with these narrow, straight barrelled, more modern ones. I need a set like the set I played my best darts ever with, the set that won me three back to back FOD World Championship victories. I need a set with a lil' curve in the barrel.

Unfortunately, darts buying is a surprisingly harsh minefield. You buy them online ('Ooh, they look nice, just the right size and shape') then they turn up and they're not as heavy as advertised, too short, etc etc. You go to your local JJB and the selection is either A: Shit, B: Sold out, or C: mainly brass darts as thick as lead pipe. For the unititated, modern darts tend to be a mix of 80% tungsten and nickel, the high density of tungsten meaning that you can get the right weight with a thinner barrel. It's also very hard wearing. And I fully intend for these fuckers to be getting a lot of wear.

This means, therefore, the best place to find darts tends to be small, privately owned, sporting accessory stores; they have a better selection that the chain stores generally, and more variety. A quick Google search on 'sports shops Derby' revealed the suspected JJB's and Argos...es (Argi?) and one promising looking gaff in Borrowash. A 20 minute drive later revealed a small outlet full of cricket pads, football studs, whistles, snooker cues, etc. Perfect.

Except they had one packet of darts in the whole fucking shop.

And he had to get them out of the back.

Apparently they tended to order in, which was annoying, and even more annoying the barrels were the perfect shape. For a second, I got very excited, but then I saw the weight; 21 grams. No good. I'm a 27 gram man. (Not literally. I was up to 13 stone last year.) I tend to have a more lobbing, lift-and-drop throw; lighter darts can't drop the way I need them to. Blast.

However, he very kindly recommended a shop a 15 minute drive away in Long Eaton (thank God I got a stat nav for christmas) and as the guy in the other place had rightly claimed, there was a big stand full of the things great.

Straight away I saw the perfect set-the only ones on the stand that were the right shape, and only one packet left at that. Naturally, my heart sank as I realised the odds of that one remaining packet of the one correct shape being the right weight were less than zero.

Incredibly, they were 27 grams.

Elated, I snatched them up, only to hear the guy behind the counter say 'Do you wanna try them out? ' I looked to my right, and there was a dartboard set up.

This, I should point out, was the stuff of fabled times gone by. Back in the days of my first time round with darts, in the days of playing for one season with the Whitefriars pub team I started, the older guys used to talk about a shop in Coventry that had a board set up specifically for the purpose of trying before buying. This was always during times when we had a go with each other's arrows, seeing which were better than others, and lamenting just having to buy darts of the shelf without seeing if you actually got on with them. The idea of this board in a shop with modern, pre-packaged darts that could be taken out of the boxes, tried, and then put back if you didn't like them was unthinkable.

"Ok," I said to the fella (who probably really didn't give a shit seeing as it turned out he was filling in, usually working in the bike shop next door) "If I can throw..." I thought about it. Keep it realistic, for God's sake. "...over 40 with three darts, I know I'm off to a good start and I'll take them." He shrugged, doing a good job of seeming nonchalant despite his massive internal excitement.

Thud, thud, thud. 58.

"I'll take them."

An outer bull (good line, bad height; wasn't ready for the weight) a recalibrated after the first shot 20 (right on the wire of the treble) and a random 13. Hardly electrifying, admittedly, but at last they felt right in my hand. Haven't had that for a while (which would explain a dip in form in the last FOD...)

Either way, I have my arrows of outrageous fortune (22 bastard quid?? Aah, the sponsorship money will cover it.) Getting the rest of this week out of the way, and rigorous discipline starts Monday. RIGOROUS. DISCIPLINE.

4 hours a day, minimum 5 days a week.

That's a lot of darts.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Becoming A Professional Darts Player-Day One

Fuck it. It's time to get serious.

After 10 classic tournaments-and still being the only man to win back-to-back FOD World Titles, not just once, but three in a row, and the only one of two men (well, one man and one half man/half dog) to win more than one title, and the only man to win more than two tournaments (becoming a four time FOD World Champion)-it is with a very heavy heart that I am officially announcing my retirement from the Future Of Darts world championships.

OBVIOUSLY, I shall still organise, compere, and attend the event (as it extremely dear to my heart, and still the best crack to be had in a room full of men) but I shall no longer be entering as a player.

No doubt this will be met with a mixture of dismay (no one gets to test themselves against the man) and delight (with one of the biggest guns in the FOD organisation gone, everyones road to the top gets that little bit easier) but I feel I should explain my reasons.

Finding myself watching the lamentably now small-time BDO World Championships (again) and getting excited about Darts (again) and thinking about Justin Irwin's 'Murder On The Darts Board' again, I've decided to commit.

For those of you that don't know, I heard about Justin Irwin a couple of years ago, before his book came out. It's his own true story, based around one simple assumption; that if you put the hours of practice in, and have a modicum of ability to play the game, you can compete in Darts at the top level. The resulting novel is a story of his journey. I don't know how it turned out (I should imagine, due to not seeing him in the Premier League, it probably led to failure) but I'm not going to let that put me off. I thought it was a great idea when I heard it, and though I hate to copy ANYONE'S ideas, I'm having a go.

I kind of started this about the same time I first heard of Mr. Irwin, but it lasted about a week, due to a time of major upheaval in my life, so it's time to make it this year's project. Last years is day's away from completion (finishing the second draft of my novel) and I'll be following that up this year with attempts to get the sodding thing onto the right desks of the right people, but taking centre stage is going to be the Darts.

Hence my departure from the FOD World Championships; the amount of practice I'm going to be putting in (four hours a day) will frankly be vastly more than that put in by the other competitors (barring, of course, the week before the tournament when every one goes nuts with the practice and pretends they haven't, leading to sudden, unexpected, dramatic upturns in skill level. Steve Revill, I'm looking at you) and therefore it would give me a major and unfair advantage. I could lie, and keep it secret, but not only do I respect the tournament too much to do so, but it would only make me a paper champion, and lord alone knows the last thing we need is another one of those...

Here's my thinking, anyway. I have all the free time in the world, all week, every week, due to being a professional musician and singer on the weekends. So there's that; I have a MAJOR advantage over anyone wanting to get into Darts. I have the time.

And if I were to get the skills necessary, what do we currently have in the world of professional darts? Fat, old, boring, unattractive men that have zero charisma (barring Taylor. In terms of charisma and boringness only, obviously.)

Then you have me, and let's be blunt here, compared to the faces we see on the TV I'm Brad Pitt. I'm young, not unattractive, slim, and though you may argue with the other bits there, there's one thing that can't be denied; put me on the microphone and I'll talk so much outrageous, arrogant, wrestling bad guy shit that people that don't even watch Darts will be tuning in to see either what I've got to say or to see me get my ass handed to me. I'd be so different, I'd be massive. I'd do for Darts what Alex Higgins did for Snooker.

Obviously, though...that's all a far way off. So here's this year's goal.

Within the next 12 months, I intend to enter-and win-an amatuer level open regional tournament.

If you're at all interested in following my progress, then sign up as a follower, then I THINK you get email notifications of anything new. Alternatively, you might just not give a fuck.

Wish me luck.

The Straight Shooter

PS While you're at it, go to YouTube and type in Future Of Darts to see some beautiful montages to music of drunken men in the throes of sporting glory.