Thursday, 28 April 2011

Day 482-The '500 Hours Of Practice' Special! Going Back To My (Darting) Roots, The Birth Of The Earlsdon Cottage Galaxy, Wednesday Is Darts Day, A Trip To The UK Open Qualifiers, Analysis Paralysis, and Blog Reflection. PLUS! 500 Hours: What's Changed, How Badly I've Failed At All Of My Goals So Far, And Goals For The NEXT 500 Hours

Hours Of Practice: 504
Miles Walked On The Oche: 401.6

500 hours. A milestone. A turning point. A horrific realisation that-based on the scientifically accepted  rule of it taking 10,000 hours of practice to master anything-I'm only 5% of the way there. Wank.

Still! 5%, eh? I'm proud of it. It SHOULD be more over the time period since I started all this, but given the various other factors that have affected the regime over time, I think it's decent going. And so, it's at a time like this that a man needs to take a look back at where he's been before he can decide where he's going. Which today will be a trip to the Newcastle coast with Angela's family, but what the fuck has that got to do with darts? Nothing, that's what. So let's talk about DARTS. Come back.

So, given that I've reached a certain stage in what I laughably call a career-and that I was in Newcastle-I thought a return to The Plough was in order. Long-time readers may remember in the early of my march up The Tungsten Trail To Titanic Top Trumping Triumph that I used to practice a lot in pubs, mainly in Cramlington where I spent most of my week whilst Angela still lived in Newcastle. My favourite haunt-and a cracking boozer full stop-was The Plough. About a year ago, I was in there 5 days a week without fail, two hours in the morning, two hours late afternoon, and during that time there used to be 3 or 4 of the same chaps that would come in after work for a pint or two. Obviously, Monday to Friday I'd be there already on the oche, and eventually over time it progressed from nods of recognition to the inevitable question; "What's with all the darts then?" And I told them. After that, though we were never overly chatty-as I didn't want to interrupt their evening, and also, y'know, the darts thing-there was always a brief bit of chat. I had visions of me finally taking down Phil Taylor on the world stage and them watching in The Plough, saying 'Aye, that fella used to practice in heeya every de-ay, fuckin' cham-pyan he was." Or possibly "Every dee-ay ah though to mesen, 'I'm gonna chin that fucka if he doesn' stop with the fuckin' darts.'"

Anyway, on the week that I cracked the 500 barrier-and it being a good year since I was last in there-I thought a return journey should be on the cards seeing as I was in the area. As I approached, I saw through the window that the main bar was rammed. Obviously a football game or something. I hoped very strongly that the snug would be less so, and that no-one would already be on the oche.

It wasn't, and no-one was. Result. I ordered a Strongbow and headed for the board-lovely throw they have in there-only to realise that someone was sat at a high table right on the oche line. I looked on the TV; someone was...playing Call Of Duty on the Xbox? And it was the guy sat at the table. Upon asking at the bar, I discovered that it was a charity tournament night, and that yes, they would mind moving the table forward half a foot. Despondent, I sat at a barstool.

At the end of the bar, I recognised a face; was that one of my guys? I couldn't remember. I thought I saw recognition in his face, so I tried a nod. He nodded back, and nudged his mate, who turned around-I recognised him-and cracked a smile. "Ah, how you doin' mate, how's the darts gannin'?" I felt this particular trip down memory lane had been worthwhile after all.

The 500 hour mark has also coincided with my return to the Wednesday night Chapelfields Pub League, after starting a team at The Earlsdon Cottage. Though the standard of players in my team starts at 'Rank Amateur'' and rockets downhill rapidly from there, the crack is great and I'm getting the competitive play I need. And I clearly DO need it; despite playing the best darts in my life in practice, I played the worst darts of my life in our first game. I also play in a wednesday afternoon practice league now in Birmingham-discovered through the good people on the forums-with pro and county players. I've won the odd leg-which is hella good in my opinion-but am a long way off getting a win against the top guys. A LONG way.

The irony is, I attended the regional qualifiers for the UK Open a few weeks ago...and a funny thing happened. I turned up towards the end of registration time, only to be told I needed to be wearing trousers, collar and shoes to compete, with it being an official PDC event. Looking around the room at all the other competitors dressed in the appropriate gear-who seemed to be looking at me-and combining that with the volume at which this guy had addressed the issue-a felt like a bit of a twat stood there in my t-shirt, board shorts and trainers. Fortunately, the venue was a Riley's just down the road from my house, so I had time to boot it back, grab my suit trousers, polo shirt and shoes, and hoof it back into the venue.

"Just in time mate, board 3, you're on now."

No warm up, nothing. Straight in, and in arguably the most important game of my career (playing for a place at the goddamn UK Open at the Reebok Stadium, no less.)

I played the best competitive game of my life and rinsed him 3-1. Second competitive win of my career.

Elated, I toddled back to the bell-end (guy had a real attitude all day, I thought) and told him I'd won. Second round at the UK Open regional qualifiers!! Awesome!...except I wasn't. Eh? Apparently, because the numbers were odd, what I'd just won was a preliminary; it didn't count. If I were to win the tournament, I would have done so by playing an extra game than everybody else. As I was still on a high from my win, I just accepted this news, but when I thought about it later it seemed to me that this wasn't right. Surely there should have just been a bye for someone then? Anyone who knows anything about tournament structures, feel free to weigh in on this issue.

Either way, in my second round/first round game, I lost 3-0 in a VERY close game against a superior opponent; but only slightly so, I thought, and that in itself told a story. 500 hours ago, I would have been terrified of this guy, but now I was not only unafraid but I could give him a game that on another day could have gone my way.

This makes my cracker-ass performace in my first league game all the more frustrating...but if there's one tale of woe I hear time and again on the forums and in person, it's one of inconsistency, so I know this is something common. Even so, I decided to take a £20 gamble and pay the folks at to analyse my throw. It works for golf swings, so why not darts throws?

The problem with the game of darts is that it can't REALLY be taught; different things work for different people. The key thing overall though is consistency, and this can only come from biomechanics that are repeated identically every time, all the time, and then adjusted to suit for the required targets at any one time. Therefore I thought paying for an online throw video analysis might be worthwhile.

And if you fancy seeing the video yourself it can be found here:
And if you can be bothered to read the analysis, you can download it from here:

Basically, in a nutshell, it can be summed up as this: Thowing action, release, and follow through all very good. But something I didn't know before now; I've been moving my head. What difference this will make to my game once I stop this from happening remains to be seen.

Before I get into the actual stats of my progress (which may be a bit much for some of you to plough through) I thought, after a brief look at earlier entries, that some of these needed mentioning. I chose my first darts after throwing a 58 in the shop, like this is something to be proud of. Today, a 58 is a total cock-up. I hoped to be 'well into the 30 (darts) checkout zone.' Now I hope to be checking out below 21 darts; once upon a time, a 19 or 18 darter would mean a screaming lap of the house and a call to my girlfriend. Now it's just a little 'ah, well done' in my head. They happen all the time. I did also mention something about practicing in pubs to stave off the cabin fever of being in the house. I think there's a LOT of truth in this, but this would mean practicing without my carefully selected shows on the background, and that would be a big loss. I have to find some sort of middle ground, I think; I miss pub practice.

So, for the dedicated, let's break this little 500 hour retrospective down into sections (If you're not interested in the stats, just skip this part.)

3 Dart Average: Initially, this hovered around the 45 mark, before drifting into the mid 50s at around the 300 hour mark, although this would be on a good day, and would not hold up in competition. A bit of a tweak of darts, and this became a consistent 55, but it took a key revelation via usage of a Winmau SightRight to discover my stance was all out of goose. That, combined with another switch of darts, took my average into the 60s at around the 400 hour mark, leading me to set a goal of a consistent 70 average by the end of April. Didn't quite make it....but I now am proud of a consistent 65-70 average.
Goal For Next 500 Hours: Consistent 70 by the end of May, consistent 80 by year end.

Checkouts: Initially inconsistent, frustrating, and constantly extending each game. By about the 400 hour mark, my checkouts are now, I would say, excellent. Funnily enough, the once-hated Double 20 has now become a fond friend.
Goal For Next 500 Hours: None in particular here. Just keep improving.

n01: Long time readers (if any) will remember this as the program that simulates an opponent for me to practice against. For a long time I was playing level 4 and getting beaten, then level 5 and getting beaten. From about the 450 hour mark I am now playing against level 6 and, usually, by the end of practice I would say 70% of the time we're tied in games, 25% of the time I've won more, and 5% is his. I'm happy with that at this stage.
Goal For Next 500 Hours: To consistently beat level 7 and start to give level 8 a game.

Mental Game: Easily still my weakest part-as could be said for nearly every player-although this has gone from letting me down in competition every single time, to going from the sublime to the ridiculous; massive confidence to zero after 3 bad darts. But at least it's an improvement, and I put this down to increased competitive exposure. As you have already read, this has increased and will continue to do so.
Goal For Next 500 Hours: See a fucking hypnotherapist or SOMETHING. Will definitely do this.

Number Of Darts To Checkout: See above.
Goal For Next 500 Hours: Get it regularly below 20. n01 only remembers your number of darts to checkout on winning games; pretty much every day I'm winning in an average of 21 darts, but thats obviously only the winning ones. Still, I want to get that winning average at 20 or under.

And so, with that, I shall retire to bed for the evening, and a stronger-than-ever resolve to attain darting greatness. I think that's the best thing I can say; though my love of the game has been through peaks and troughs, I love it now more than ever. And I think it's also appropriate to say that those of you who actually read this bullshit-be you readers from the start, total newcomers, or somewhere inbetween-thanks very much for taking the time. I really appreciate it, and I mean that. Onto the next 500.

And then the next 9000. FUCK.

Stay Hungry,

The Straight Shooter.

PS If you actually enjoy the aforementioned bullshit, you can download my novel The Physics Of The Dead for whatever eBook reader app you have on your smartphone, iPad, or even PC. Just visit from whatever device you want to read it on, and follow the link. I'll actually kiss you on sight if you do. And hell, if you own a Kindle (or have a Kindle app) you can find it on the Kindle Store under Luke Smitherd. Thanks all.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Day 461-Competitive Spirit (And Mixer, And Cider), The Shame Of The Straight Shooting One, An Unpleasant Run-In: Part TWO, 'Hello Stoke On Trent!', Front Loading And Sighting Right, Cracking The 60+ Average, and The Future Of Darts XII

Hours Of Practice-477
Miles Walked On The Oche-381.6

Good afternoon; as I write, I have one eye on the clock, as it ticks down towards 6pm. At that point I must gather my things and trudge (drive) my weary way down the M1 towards Derby for an appointment I do not wish to keep. Sigh...but more on that later. For now, let your love flow as we delve together into the past month or so in the world of the Straight Shooting One, to find the treasures that lie therein. I can see them. They look like pork scratchings.

Firstly, draw your eyes to the practice hours total above; I've been hitting the Oche hard. That, along with my new promise to myself to attend a minimum of two tournaments a month, has had my feet firmly embedded in the world of darts, and this is a good thing. In fact, since the last blog entry I've entered 5 tournaments, and achieved...well, there's a few stories to tell first. They begin with the realisation of a need for ruthlessness.

Too much friendliness at tournaments from me. Not focused enough. Too much concern over how my game was being perceived rather than just thinking about getting the thing won. And so I'd made up my mind to minimise the banter and maximise the sheer, bloody-minded determination to win.

And so, typically, at the next pub tournament (that shall be unnamed) my opponent (who shall be given the same treatment) was the friendliest, most pleasant chap I'd had the pleasure of playing against, with whom I was powerless to not return the light hearted chit-chat. But then I REALLY let myself down.

After claiming the first throw via nearest bull, by a sheer moment of idiocy, I managed to throw both of my first two darts clean over the 20, landing side by side just above the double. My opponent-a thoroughly nice chap, who even remembered my name-interjected, and said 'Luke, it's not double in you know.'

He'd seen where my darts had gone, and assumed I wasn't aware of the tournament rules and was aiming for the double, thinking I was playing league rules and trying to hit a double to begin my scoring. He was giving me an opportunity to start again.
And, darts fans, I am ashamed to say, that in a moment of confusion and a flash of 'BE RUTHLESS!' running through my head...I said 'Oh! Of course...tsk...' then walked over to the board, AND TOOK MY DARTS BACK. I watched his good-natured, we've-all-done-it smile on my way back to the oche line and realised all I needed was for my head to turn into that of a donkey, Warner Brothers cartoon style, replete with t-shirt saying 'Jackass.' I felt smaller than Jo Whiley's charisma. And for the rest of that game, I couldn't shift the guilt, despite trying to convince myself that I was simply taking advantage of an opportunity to win (ruthlessruthlessRUTHLESS) and failing completely. I had straight up cheated, and I knew it. My game went to pot, and I found myself thinking 'I hope this guy wins,' just so I could get what I deserved. He did. I was relieved.

There is ruthless, and there is ruthless, and then there is cheating. The Straight Shooting One made a judgement of error, and swears it will never happen again.

But now for an update to an incident that regular blog readers (all 2 of them, including my girlfriend) will remember.

At my most recent outing, a saturday afternoon tournament at a social club in Birmingham, I saw a familiar face; the man I'd given a piece of my mind to when I'd felt slighted by his lack of courtesy after I'd scored for him at two separate occasions. The concerningly-I realised, with the clarity of a sober man-large man I'd given a piece of etc etc.

Now, since the first run-in, having given the matter some thought, I'd realised I was in the wrong. I've even nearly forgotten to say thanks to a scorer after a game simply because my head was still in the game, so it's easily done-though not right-and I caused a scene where it wasn't necessary. So I'd decided already, should I ever see him again, to apologise and buy him a beer. Looking at the size of the man, I decided I'd probably better up that to two beers, and full access to my girlfriend should he so wish.

The question was, how to bring about a situation where I COULD apologise, especially when in all likelihood he wouldn't even remember me. However, this would soon be resolved, for the gods of darts proved they have a sense of humour; I was playing in the first round, and it turned out he would be scoring for my game.

Irony, my friends.

So my opponent and I began warming up, and if he recognised me, he gave no sign. Taking a deep breath, I threw my practice darts and addressed him directly at the same time.

"I owe you a pint mate."

He looked at me, slightly confused, and I followed up with a smile and said, "You don't remember me do you?" He shook his head no, smiling slightly himself. I collected my darts from the board and walked over. "I'm the guy who drunkenly moaned at you after-" He interrupted me with a click of his fingers and a point, smiling fully as it dropped into place. "Wolston." He said, naming the venue. "Yeah, that was me. Look, I just wanted to say I was out of order and I'm sorry-" He waved it away, shaking his head. "Nah, don't worry about it mate." "Well, I owe you a pint, so I'll buy you one when I'm done here," I replied, offering my hand. He took it. "Nice one mate, nice one. What was the name?" he asked, meaning for the scoreboard. "Luke."

"Right. You've just lost then!" he said, and laughed, and I felt very good that the whole thing had been resolved.

And, despite going two legs down, and despite being observed by someone who I knew was an excellent darts player...I won my first competitive tournament game.

It was a crap game by both our standards, but the main thing was I was not only the guy who'd kept his head and won it, but I'd had to stage a comeback to do so. I felt like the king of the world.

But I haven't played in a tournament since, as I've undergone a change in employment.

In an industry (entertainment) where reliable, steady income is always at risk, ongoing economic fears have lead to the most lean Christmas and January of my professional life, and so I decided to forgo the convenience of a super-sweet but highly unreliable residency at a bar on the other side of the street from where I live, in exchange for going back with my old agent and going back out on the road around the Midlands. This mainly means one thing; social club audiences.

These can be notoriously hit and miss. Some clubs are brilliant, full of people who have actually come out for a good time, to socialise, to literally eat, drink, and be merry. And then there are those venues whose patrons have come out solely because they don't know-or try to think-what else to do, and to play Bingo. Note the capital B.

In the main, so far, I've been lucky. And, most importantly of all, my diary has gone from empty to full in a matter of weeks, and so I'm delighted with my decision. But the big downside is the hours at which I've been getting home, often on Sunday nights and midweek. This has meant getting up later, and then my whole day is a shambles if the routine is broken. I can't get my head together, can't concentrate; the whole sleep issue thing again. But the main thing is that practice, though affected, has still been pressing on.

And most importantly, improving, thanks to the aforementioned extra hours and two new bits of kit. A new set of darts, and the Winmau SightRight.

Liking the 26g Dennis Priestly darts I'd been using of late-darts with a significant extra weight towards the front end, or 'front loaded' as they say-but unhappy with the grip, I started a thread on darts forum asking for suggestions of similar, more grippy front-loaded darts. The response was fantastic, and eventually I settled on a set of Hi-Tec Vice in 26g. Not only have these improved my game, but combined with the Winmau Sightright my average is now solidly around the 65 mark, and often in the low 70s (my goal is to have it firmly locked in the 70s by the end of April.) The SightRight is basically a piece of kit that you place under your dartboard, directly under the bull, and look at from the oche line. If the two white lines on it appear to be in line, then you are stood in the right place. If not, you're off centre. To my great surprise, I was actually slightly too far to the left. The idea of the thing is that, over time, you will stand in the correct place naturally.

Many-including myself-thought it might be a bit of a gimmick, but I have to say I swear by it; my general standard and average shooting up to the point where 19-21 darters are commonplace, and the trebles are dropping in all the while. If you want to tweak your game, google it; they're about £20 delivered. Or you could just build your own if you can be arsed.

Apologies for the slightly subdued tone for this month's blog; I started this over a month ago, and haven't managed to get it finished. So I swore to myself I'd get it finished today, as there's actually more news to tell-and more interesting news, thank heavens-but that has to be for another time. Sigh. I'll get it up real soon, as the bishop said to the actress.

Stay Hungry,

The Straight Shooting One