Hours Of Practice-205
Average Number Of Darts To Checkout-29
Miles Walked On The Oche-174.25
Ok, let's get this out of the way first.
I lost The Future Of Darts XI. (See previous blog entry.)
Anything I say to follow that now will only be perceived as making excuses, whining, or trying to put a false spin on what actually happened, and there ARE some things I would like to say about it; so let me say from the off that there was no excuse for losing. None. I won't attempt to try and excuse it. But I WILL say what my feelings about the tournament are, as much of it as I can remember (which, as usual, isn't a vast amount...I'm not the only one.)
I played well in the group stages; and something I realised after the tournament was-to my credit-I was never really aware of any of my opponent's scores. I felt so confident, and was playing at such a good degree that I didn't ever really worry about what they were doing, which for me, with my never-shutting-the-fuck-up mind rattling away 24/7, is a big deal. It came to the semi-finals, and yes, I was a little worse for wear on several pints if Strongbow, but this is par for the course for F.O.D. World Championships. Besides, I played my best darts of the day in that semi; double trouble on the first leg hampered me, and once I was in I was throwing comfortable 80s, but too late. The second leg was regarded by many there as the best leg in F.O.D. history (which, although it sounds impressive, given the hazy recollections of past tournaments is a highly unreliable statement; it was a hell of a leg though.) I didn't play to my best-which is my fault-however, I still played very well, as did my opponent, Craig 'The Lord Of The Board' Nicholls. Bottom line, I was first to a finish, and had three darts at my favourite double. I bent the wire on all three, out my a gnats knacker. He had three at double tops, and hit it on the second dart, taking the place in the final, the rabid, delighted cheers of my alleged friends (fuckers) and a small piece of my soul.
I can't really complain; what can I say? Craigy played really well, reaching his first final in the last five tournaments. He turned up on the day, and deserved to win. I had to produce my best darts under pressure, and unlike my opponent, I didn't. Good darts for me? Yes. Great darts for me? No. And like I say, that isn't to disrespect Craigy; half the skill of being a good darts player is producing your best when you need to. He did, I didn't, and therefore on the day the better man won. Even though he's Ginger.
I was quite surprised at how well I took it, to be honest. I was fine until sat in the Allesley Village Harvester the next day with Angela and, laughing over a barbecued chicken that tasted like dried rubber due to both horrific hangover and shit kitchen staff, realisation fully hit me. I nearly threw up at the table, but again, that could be laid at the door of the Strongbow.
Funnily enough, I'd sent my brother an update text during the tournament saying something like 'Breezing through the group stages, already qualified foir the semis, just Craigy in my last group game for bragging rights.' He said the next day that when he'd received that, he knew I was going to lose. 'Why?' I said. 'Because he was in your head; you'd said beforehand he was the man to watch.' He was probably right; he was the only player I actually felt worried about, due to us practicing together most weekends. Craigy had also been overheard saying in the day, regarding me, 'I know how to beat him.' When I asked Craigy about this the next day, he refused to tell me what he'd actually done, but said he'd noticed a few things about me when I played that he thought he could manipulate a little bit.
This all was entirely new thinking to me. It never would have occured to me to watch a player and think about what I could do to throw him off his rhythm; I was only thinking about getting the darts right. But that's all part of the game, and not only is it something to keep in mind, and something I SHOULD have done, but a positive I took away from the tournament was this: I learned I had a mental weakness in my game. More on this later.
After the tournament, I took a week off practice. After that, the very idea of playing darts made me feel a little bit sick. But of course, the addiction slowly crept back in, and I began throwing again. People were asking 'Do you feel like all the practice has been a waste?' and though I felt crappy about practicing more, I can honestly say the answer was, and is, no. I played far better and with more confidence than I ever have before, and lost in the semi-finals to someone who played a better game. I'll just have to beat him next time. And do it so bad that in generations to come his descendants' first words will be 'Fuck me, The Straight Shooter took our great-great-great-great-great Grandad to school at darts.' And they'll be ginger.
So I'd made a ton of progress; how could that be a waste? I pressed on.
I did of course have to sit back and take stock. What had gone wrong? The first part was obvious. Being a musician/performer, I've always held to the theory that on the day, at best you will only be 80% as good as you are in your best practice days. Therefore, you have to get your practice performance to the standard that is ALWAYS 120% to properly turn up, if you get me.
On F.O.D. day, I probably was at about 70%. 80% in the semi. And when I wrote the last blog, I realised I'd been getting nowhere near 4 hours a day, five days a week. I'd been treating it as something optional, something to TRY and do; I realised that had to change. The main problem was time. With my job, most days of the week I can do as I please (which is nowhere near as much fun as it sounds when you want your life to actually go somewhere) and I never sleep particularly well, so I tended to get up about 10am. Add breakfast, dinner, the fact that Angela gets home about 6ish most days, and if you're playing four hours of darts a day you don't have much time left, or rather, you do your other stuff (I'm always working on some nonsense) and you don't have four hours left.
The answer, therefore, was to get up at 7:30am/8am. Hard for me (I have to take special tablets to moderate my body clock) but it just meant being more consistent with an 11/12pm bedtime (getting to sleep at a reasonable hour is next to impossible without the tablets. Melatonin-which I discovered a year ago-has literally changed my life.) So for the last 3 weeks, that's what I've been doing, and the four hours a day has been achieved.
The result? I finally broke the 30-dart average barrier for my checkouts. Over 100-odd games, my average was 29 darts.
Feeling rejeuvenated, I entered a small level charity tournament two weeks ago in a pub in Sutton Coldfield ('Let's Play Knockout Darts!') that I found on the Uk Darts Forum (an excellent resource folks, no doubt about it...) This is discovering that I'd got the dates wrong for my UK Open qualifier in Solihull. BASSSStard. Some lucky sod waltzes through thanks to me . If you're reading this, you're welcome, but know you are a fraud.
It's was a nice place, and a nice atmosphere, and I felt good; I read a great piece of extremely simple advice in the article 'How The Pros Do It' by Ken Berman (quite simply the most useful one I have ever read. Read it here at http://www.crowsdarts.com/dprosdoit.html I found that via THIS website, which is phenomenal: http://www.dartbase.com/nojs.htm If you're in any way interested in getting into darts, you HAVE to go there.) Simply put, it basically says that even when you throw bad darts, stand up like a champion, and carry on. Don't worry. That sort of thing usually just bounces off my skull ineffectively ('Don't worry, she'll love you no matter how long you take, if you worry you'll only make it WORSE!!!') but that really seemed to stick with me.
Plus, I felt better with my actual darts. Before the tournament, I'd been played with leaf shaped, dimplex flights (dimplex being an almost mini-'bubble wrap' effect on the surface of the dart. Apparently it reduces spin, if you want that. I found this out after I'd been using them for a while; I like spin.) All I knew was that Dimplex was supposed to be a good thing, and I'd given these flights a try and stuck with them. My last set of those got damaged, so I started using the flights I had left, some Ameri-thon brand, non Dimplex kite-shaped darts (I now have an overwhelming amount of stems and flights. I will never allow this running-out-of-shit situation to happen again.) I liked these, and found I played better with them. Then I had a brain wave. Played well with Dimplex leaf shaped flights? Played BETTER with non-Dimplex kite shaped flights? Play BEST with Dimplex kite shaped flights!!
So I ordered some two weeks before F.O.D. After the tournament, when I just couldn't seem to get my game quite right, I tried the smooth Ameri-thons again, and marked the point in the checkout dart tally where I switched flights from the Dimplex ones; 36 games. To test it, I played 36 games with the Ameri-thons. My average was one dart better with the Ameri-thons. Doesn't sound like much, but it is.
Anyway, my darts case was now stuffed to bursting with Ameri-thon flights, and in the warm-up I swas playing out of my skin and feeling good. Angela, bless her wonderful soul, had driven me there so I could drink, and didn't complain once when it turned out the start was delayed by two hours. She's either a wonderful girlfriend or I'm a really amazing boyfriend. I think we all know which it is, darts fans.
Tournament atmosphere is great; hustle and bustle, drink and banter. Lots of people who love their darts, some deadly serious, some who are up for a chat. Bullshit flying around the room. Great. The guy I was chatting to keep coughing. 'You alright?' I said. 'Yeah. Just recovering from bronchitis.' The professional singer wished he'd warmed up on board 5.
My opponent clearly played a lot of darts; I'd seen him warm up, and he knew his stuff, team shirt, the lot. I'd had three pints, felt just right, and felt happy. I lost the first leg, after playing far better than I had at F.O.D. I won the second, and despite an extremely close few legs, he went 3-1 up in a best 0f 7 game. But to my delight, I still felt ok. If there's one thing I know about darts, it's that comebacks are common. Especially when I knew that I hadn't let my head drop, and I was winning the leg despite him throwing first. If I could win this, suddenly it'd be 3-2 and wide open. I missed my finish, and he produced a big finish to win the leg and the match.
But I didn't mind. I'd played in a tournament and kept my head, and played better than at F.O.D. Being the loser, I had to score the next game.
It was a wake-up call. The standard was fantastic; constant tons, a few 180s. It was interesting to observe the 'danger' player fall apart once he went behind. I spoke to the winner when he came to get his darts. 'Is that your usual standard mate? That was brilliant!' 'I'm shaking, to be honest mate,' he said, only a few years older than me. 'That guy's a really good player.'
I came away with a feeling of optimism, and I realised something. I'd completed stage 1. I'd gotten my average checkout under 30 darts, I'd kept my head and played confidently in a tournament-better than other players there I'd watched-and had started solid, consistent practice. Hell, look at the number of hours played in the five weeks since the last blog.
But I'd seen where I needed to go next. I was, and still am, slotting 3 darts into the 20 with a fair amount of ease. That will win a lot of pub games, and that is something. But...the reason I lost that game was even though I literally was scoring 60, 60, 60, and my opponent fluffed a few arrows, he was hitting the TREBLE 20 more than I did and that made that 10% difference to win. The guys I'd seen after me were hitting it at least once every 6 darts, and that's WITH hitting the 20s, and I knew that I'd been settling for too little. I'd been happy with just hitting the 20, and hoping to hit the treble, but realised I needed to start gambling more and TRAINING to hit the lipstick, and risk more resultant 5s and 1s. I really had a feeling of 'Ok, you've reached the top of the first stage; now you're at the bottom of the second stage.' And that felt good.
And right on cue, about a week later, a darts catalogue came through my door. Amongst the myriad of other darts crap I bought (any old shit. I'm such a sucker) I saw the Eclipse Pro (the board I use, and the one they use in the Premier League) next to the Eclipse Pro Trainer, which somehow cost more. I couldn't see why, but then found it has 40% thinner doubles and trebles. This was a revelation to me. What a great idea! Train on that until it feels normal, then a NORMAL board will feel like a walk in the park! Though obviously it would utterly and catastrophically fuck my checkout average, if I could nail the action for a solid treble 20 hit on that bad boy, I'd be sorted. I paid up. ("Including a special micro bull for extra training torture!" It literally says that on the box. No joke.)
The first game I played on it I envisioned weeks of hell on this bastard. Even double 16 seemed harder to find than anyone other than a woman who would say Sarah Jessica Parker is fit.
But after about 4 games, a funny thing happened. I don't know if it was just the extra focus that came with knowing I was playing on such a hard-to-hit board, but I suddenly felt like I was playing on a normal one. The double were dropping in, and even if the trebles didn't, they were landing where they would be in the treble on a normal board. Hell, today I even threw two 22 darters, an 18 darter, and a 180 (this is the difference the extra practice made; before the true 4 hour adjustment, 180s never happened. Now they've started to creep in, and today's was the first one on the Pro Trainer.) I think this board is the best bit of training kit I've ever bought.
In fact, the above average is taken from BEFORE the Pro Trainer. I haven't done it yet, but the majority of checkouts are in the 20s, undoubtedly. However, there's a handful of 40s in there that may shaft the average...sod it, I'm gonna go work it out now. I'm no mathematician, butu to me, if it's 40% harder to finish and score big on, if my average is below a 40% increase, then I'm laughing. Right?....Right? Sod it, let's check.
Fuck me ragged.
Over 96 games, my average number of darts to checkout-on a harder board-is 28.
I've IMPROVED it by one dart.
I need to keep that board up.
It couldn't happen at a better time; after finishing work at probably about 2am, I'm driving to Wales at 7:30am on Sunday to play in the Welsh Open.
Well...Angela is. Wish us luck.
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The Straight Shooter