Friday, 12 February 2010

Day 38-The Long Walk To Greatness, The Rematch, The Aftermath, and An Unexpected Challenge

Numbers Of Hours Practice-60
Average Number Of Darts To Checkout-37.28
Miles Walked On The Oche-51 miles

Now, you may be reading that last line and thinking, 'Hang on, 51 miles? That's a long way! But still 10 times less than The Proclamers would walk! 1 mile. Where are you getting these figures from Luke?' Well, my darting chums, I'll tell you.

On thursday I bought a pedometer, and did a typical hour's practice. At the end of the hour I wrote down the number of steps I'd taken during practice, the obviously got on with the other 3 hours of hardcore darting action. Later, at home, I measured my typical step length, and did the maths; I walk 0.85 miles back and forth on the oche every hour. 60 hours practice therefore equals roughly 51 miles.

Now, that sounds like a lot, but think about it. The average human walking pace is 3-4 miles an hour. Now, that's the speed I'll be walking to the board and back, but I'm stopping every ten seconds to throw darts, so the distance I cover in an hour would be about a third of what it would be normally, which would be 180-240 miles. So all of a sudden, 51 miles sounds about right, doesn't it? You could say people walk all over the place in a day, but, I'm doing that plus the extra walking, which in a 4 hour practice day is about 3.4 miles. That's a lot of walking, and that would explain-laugh all you like-why I've lost weight since I started playing darts. (Although that 8 pint experiment day probably wasn't a contributing factor to that.) Either way, though it's obviously absolutely NO kind of cardiovascular exercise, as long as you're not sinking pint after pint, you ARE getting more walking done than most. Hell, the game involves standing, walking, throwing, and a high level of hand to eye co-ordination. Anyone that says it isn't a sport (even though it's recognised officially as such by all four governing sports bodies of the UK, making it OFFICIALLY a sport) legitimately is an idiot or opening their mouth without looking at the facts. What REALLY winds me up is when you say 'well, it's a sport because X, Y, and Z, so why ISN'T it a sport?' And the best they can come back with is ' just isn't.' You'll have to better than that, twats.

Anyway. The darts, eh? Just look at that checkout average. Just look at it. Take a moment to absorb it. That 13 DARTS shaved off my checkout average in just 31 days (practice only started on day 7.) That's pretty good going in my book.

But anyway. You want to know how the rematch went after the beating that threw my game temporarily into chaos. Chris and Craigy, the Paul and Barry Chuckle of the West Midlands darts scene. Nah, that's disrespectful, but if you read the previous blog you know full well the psychological damage they inflicted on my good self and my game, making my hours of practice all seem for nought.

This week, Briggsy came along too after following this very blog and eager for his pound of flesh too. Briggsy is no slouch in the darts department, and I would say that on his day he is a better player than the other two, so I was interested to see how this would go. Having been through the psychological doldrums and out again, and back to a higher level ala Rocky 3, I felt relaxed and even excited.

Me and Chris started before the other two got there, and I checked in straight away. I raced away, throwing big darts, and got to a finish well ahead of chris; 83.

Now, a better player would have automatically have gone for treble 17 (51) then the professional's favourite, double 16. But hitting those trebles on demand is extremely difficult, and I had a point to prove; I HAD to be the winner this week. But as I said to Chris at the time, this is practice, and you've got to go for it...and I HAD been hitting the odd treble in practice (other than treble 20, obviously, they're fairly common now) So I went for it. I missed it, cleaned the odd numbers up, got to a finish, and was stuck there for about 18 darts whilst Chris slowly caught up and checked out cleanly. One down. (There's a reason for going into this detail, you'll see why shortly.)

However, the previous week had taken all the toll it could, and I was able to shrug it off, and in the next game, funnily enough, I had 83 again, with three darts to do it. Again, Chris and I looked at each other, shrugged, and I went for it; I hit the treble! Two darts at double 16 and the finish was wrapped up, a great checkout, and beautifully, I did all of this just as Craigy and Briggsy
walked in. It couldn't have been sweeter.

After that, they couldn't get me off the board. I was checking in-and out-with my first dart pretty much every time. I was on fire. Chris was champing at the bit to get back on the oche and have more chances at revenge, but with four of us up there it took longer to get back to the board. When he did get on the oche, I think he had a dose of what I'd had last week. His head was shot, to the point where, in one game, he got that frustrated at his continued inability to check in, he missed with his first two darts and just randomly threw his dart into the board in a rage. I didn't feel any smugness. I could relate. The score at the was Luke 7, every other motherfucker 1. That 1 being Chris' win. The other two didn't get a look in. The call to my girlfriend afterwards was obviously giddy. Vindicated, I was. Vindicated.

Anyway, obviously practice on Monday started with a bang, and I was pleased to realise that I'm now going Round The Clock Doubles in the about the same time it took me to go Round The Clock singles. But the REAL story was on Tuesday.

As I was in Coventry to take my turn running the Whitefriars tuesday night pub quiz, I got my practice in on the excellent darting set up they have at The Chestnut Tree in Chapelfields (they have a buy-4-pints-get-a-fifth-free-stamp-your-loyalty-card system going. Good idea) and towards the end of the third hour I noticed two 40 something chaps come in carrying darts cases. One of them being a particularly large gentleman.

I actually recognised him; about a year ago I was drinking in there with a friend, and their pub darts team were in there practicing. He'd been the team captain.

My first thought was (knowing the Chapelfields league is on a wednesday; we used to be in it, in my first brief run around with darts) it must be a team practice night, and therefore they're not going to want a stranger taking up darting time on their board that could be used by their players.

But then I stopped. Every day when I practice I wish someone would come and say 'Fancy a game, mate?' just to have some competitive practice. Here was a golden opportunity to not only get that, but to play someone who I knew was of a good standard. Someone who a month ago I knew would have beaten me. I really didn't want to, feeling very awkward, but I could see they were thinking 'We've come to play darts, and this guy-handsome as he is-is taking up the board,' but not being rude enough to claim their turf. So I nodded nervously at their cases and said 'Fancy a game?'

They accepted immediately, and whilst they threw some warm-up arrows, I frantically bought a pint and began to chug it. No nerves. No nerves.

They introduced themselves as Jay and Andy, and I played Jay, the former team captain (their team doesn't play anymore, but according to the landlord, he and Andy were in there most nights.)

He threw big darts. So did I. I beat him.

I was over the moon. I didn't really know what to do though; I wanted to be respectful on his turf, so I held my hand out for the traditional shake. He'd already turned his back to get his pint, however, and I was left standing there with my hand out. Just when I thought ' this stupid?' he turned around and saw my hand, and there was an awkward pause. Then he said 'Nah, nah, we don't shake hands yet, there's loads more,' and I felt, frankly, like a penis. I just hadn't wanted to seem cocky in victory, like I was brushing him aside once I was done.

As we threw for bull to see who throws first, like an idiot I tried again. 'In all fairness, I'd had a lot more of a warm up than you.' It was meant to be magnanimous, to be gracious in victory, but it just came out wrong. It sounded like I was patronising him. Again there was a bit of a silent pause from Jay whilst he faced the board, and eventually responded with 'Well, it's a funny game, isn't it.'

Was he pissed off? Was he saying it's a funny game because he'd lost?

We played again whilst we waited for Andy, and Jay won this time, after I'd struggled to check in and raced back with big scores, but not fast enough. I scored Jay and Andy's game (surprisingly nervously; I was concerned about getting it wrong, even though I can score effortlessly now.)

I beat Andy (a good player, but on the day worse than Jay) and as I realised Andy was an extremely friendly and affable guy, I realised I nothing to worry about with Jay either. I should have just shut my mouth and got on with it, and the atmosphere was very pleasant, Jay and Andy taking a fag break and asking if I wanted one etc. I told them I found smoking offensive and I liked my lungs exactly the way they are, thankyou very much. Of course I didn't.

Either way, I beat Jay on the return leg, and by the end of the session, the scores were 6 to me, 2 to Jay, and 1 to Andy (not including the scores they took off each other; they are purely the scores between me versus each of them.)

I was absolutely elated. Genuinely overjoyed, for here was progress, and big progress at that. I'd convincingly beaten two guys who I wouldn't have been able to beat a month ago. This was pub league standard, and I was now one of the guys in a pub league that people would have been nervous about playing. I had-have-taken the first step on the ladder. Definitely, definitely, a Big Cock Day. Again, the phone call to the other half was breathless. And I was happy about the darts too, ba-bum tish. And God bless her, she was chuffed to bits for me. And I realised something else; this is not a fad. I'm going all the way. Because the interest isn't waning, isn't fading, it's getting bigger. I love playing darts. And I sincerely hope that you, dear reader, stick with me to the finish.

I've a story to tell about how I've worked out my route into the Professional Darts Corporation, but I've written enough for today, and that's a long one, including my feelings about each of the rival organisations, the PDC and the BDO (British Darts Organisation) and why I'm a PDC man all the way. Phil Taylor is shitting himself.

But I've got to get to practice.

Thanks for reading, and Stay Hungry.

The Straight Shooter.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Day 30-Out Of The Lipstick And Into The Doldrums, Nutritional Experimentation, The Phoenix From The Ashes, and The Comeback Kid

Number Of Hours Practice-45
Average Number Of Darts Thrown To Checkout-Read on...

Ups and downs, peaks and troughs. And Jeez Louise, I have been in a trough, although there may be a light at the end of this tunnel...

The best way I can tell the story is to illustrate it with averages. On the afternoon of Saturday the 23rd of January, my average number of darts thrown to checkout on a game of 501 was 42.3. That's another 1 darts shaved off my previous average. Chuffed, I was, and feeling highly confident about my practice games against my mates Chris and Craigy later on, due to the many hours of practice I had put in compared to their zero hours.

But I reckoned without the pressure factor.

Though I felt confident, I threw badly at first, thinking to much about my throwing action as opposed to just focusing on the board and doing it. I lost the first game; and after that, I went to pot. The pressure on myself was immense; surely I should be crushing these two goofballs? And now I was a GAME DOWN to these people, when I should be crushing them beneath my heels. The frustration began, and every three bad darts I threw it got worse. So did the anger, which fortunately I didn't direct at my two grinning opponents. I did, however, throw my darts into the wooden floor at one point. I make no apologies.

Looking back, I should have known it was a doomed effort; I've not been practicing long enough, nor have I nailed my action enough, for it to hold up under pressure. Plus I was playing a against two former Future Of Darts World Championship opponents who have EVERYTHING to gain by beating Mr Four-Hours-Practice-A-Day, whilst I have everything to lose. They could play with a sense of fun and excitement. I could only play with fear. It was like being on the oche with the Sword Of Damocles swinging over my head. The final score was Chris 7, Craigy 3, me 2. The only consolation was the last two games of the night had me beating the pair of them.

It sat very heavily with me, despite knowing that I'd lost through a poor (equally important) mental game as opposed to being beaten by superior players. It had come down to them having a strong psychological advantage, and I had been good enough mentally to beat it. Plus Chris suddenly played the best darts of his entire life. You won't see THAT again...

Plus, it revealed a major flaw in my game, and one I half expected; there's no practice like competitive play. Thankfully-and perhaps this is unwise-the three of us are going to continue our saturday meets.

Either way, come the following week, I threw myself, and my darts, back into practice with a renewed vigour. But something was different. I was consistently analysing my throw for what I believed had gone wrong. I had been applying the finger flick enough as I released, or wasn't throwing my forearm over my elbow straight enough. As the 26s kept landing repeatedly, the frustration came back within 5 minutes of practice. It wasn't fun, it was torture, and I couldn't work out what the hell was going wrong. It was maddening. Where had all my new skill gone? Why the hell couldn't I sink three into the 20 anymore? Why wasn't my new technique to find the treble 20 working? All that kept happening was the dreaded Bed And Breakfast (single 1, single 20, single 5, all in a row. 2 and six, the once-upon-a-time price of a B and B) and it was enough to make me want to scream.

Something had happened in my head, and I was staggered that the amount of damage one horrific evening of darts against two chumps had done. Overnight, I'd gone from looking forward to practice to dreading it, from delighting in my progression to feeling helpless and confused. It may sound ridiculous, but when you put hours into something, and you suddenly just go shit and don't know why and even worse, can't fix it, then it is deeply unpleasant. My checkout average slumped to 49.2. Drastic steps had to be taken.

I had to calm my head. It was time to experiment with booze.

I took my life in my hands on the thursday and went into Angela's village's working men's club. In Newcastle. In the middle of the day. And I'm not a member. But I could see through the window they had two great boards, so I figured it'd be worth it. And apart from a pleasant conversation with two toothless gentlemen playing pool ("Ah wah jus' seeyin to him like, ah said, ee's a shit at daaahts as we ah at poo-al") I had no other interaction with the locals. All was well.

My thinking was the classic darts player's approach: A few pints to relax oneself and clear the mind, then get started. I had two pints of strong cider before I started, but still felt the same anxieties I'd developed. I realised I perhaps needed another, so got one and carried on playing. But that didn't quite calm the mind either, and the B and B's were still falling. The problem wasn't being fixed. So I had another. Four hours later I'd had 8 pints of Bulmer's, my darts were even worse than when I'd started (114 darts to checkout at one point) and I was fucked. The experiment had achieved nothing, except getting me drunk by myself and leaving me the best part of 25 quid lighter.

On paper, at least, it had been a waste of time. My average was still well into the high 40s, and by the end I could even hit a single 20 out of 9 darts (at one point I hit a 7) and I realised it was probably time to go home, to stagger back to a wonderfully understanding Angela ("Well, in that case, I'll have an amaretto and diet coke." Good on you, gal. :-) ) But it was only very, very late in the session that I realised I'd changed a part of my practice that was probably vital.

In an effort to come back guns blazing after my defeat, and get my average checkout down to new levels of greatness and prove my worth, I'd thrown out the Round The Clock Doubles I'd been playing every five legs, sticking simply to 501. I realised in my drunken haze that this was probably having a very negative effect; the extra focus required to hit the doubles all the way round the board and into the bull would obviously spill over into the next five legs I would play, meaning a better game. Plus, it breaks up the monotony of the repeated 501 game, and helps keep the focus there. Upon realising this, I had a game of Round The Clock, and the following 5 legs proved the theory correct-36, 25 (best yet is 24, done that a few times on other days, but 35 on such a terrible session shows the difference Round The Clock made) 25, 42, and 41.

Ok, 42 and 41 aren't going to set the world on fire, but they're respectable for me at this stage, and either way there was an improvement. Plus I learned something else about my throw.

As I became more drunk, and therefore more lazy, I found the 'release rather than throw' thing seemed to work best when I almost casually swung my arm at the board, more like a cast than a throw. When it was done right, it found the lipstick. This goes utterly against my previous, lifelong (well, darting lifelong) belief of throwing your forearm directly in line with your elbow.

I'd had the theory (backed up by Roland; read his always interesting reflection of yankee doodle life here at of releasing rather than throwing half-right. I was doing it, but in a way my arm was uncomfortable with. It wasn't natural. Working, flat viewing, and, more cripplingly, travelling schedules over the last few days stopped me getting onto the oche until yesterday, but in a more sober frame of mind I applied these two revelations into the days practice.

To my great surprise, the cast-throw made the biggest difference to my finishing. I had a far, far happier session, my enjoyment and, more importantly, my confidence returning as the numbers fell and the darts consistently thudded three at a time into the 20, so well in fact I finished the day with a new record checkout average: 40.9. In fact, it was only topped by one of the so-far nameless pair of guys that come into the Plough at about 5 o'clock every day saying 'You should plee-ay for a teeem mee-ate.'

Although he does see me play darts by myself for hours on end most days, so I suppose it's to be expected.

So, to sum up, it appears my day of getting drunk wasn't so fruitless after all. In fact, it could be argued it was a mind-expanding experience that led me to discover hitherto-uncovered facets of my game that have taken me to another level. This can only mean I need to have session ripped to my tits on LSD, trying to hit that pesky treble elephant lawnmower.

Still no tournament shcedule for this year yet. I know, I know; but I WILL do it. And I suppose I may as well mention at least one definite calendar entry for this year.

In possibly the shortest retirement in darting history, I have been cajoled-mainly by Chris Revill, backed by Craig Nicholls and Keith Lawrence-back into the Showcase Of The Immortals. I am officially announcing my return to the FOD for the next Future Of Darts World Championships XI. It's been argued that I need a swan song, and a chance for everyone else to have one poke at me after months of practice, in the hope that I will fold like a minimum wage worker in chinese dry cleaner's under the pressure. I have to admit, I'm extremely glad, and I agree with the logic; I'm not going to be unbeatable to them by then, and it will be a great test. And what better way to kick off a quest to be the future of darts than by winning The Future Of Darts XI?

April 10th. Two months. I want to be well into the 30 checkout zone by then.

Thanks for reading, and Stay Hungry.

The Straight Shooter