Guide to the Rules of Darts
- The Board
- The Oche
- Other Rules
- Other Darts Games
- Further Reading
A game that requires dexterity, precision and a cool head under pressure (not to mention an aptitude for mental maths) darts draws a fanatical following and the major events always have a party atmosphere.
If you don’t know the difference between the oche (pronounced ‘ock-ee’) and a treble 20, fear not. This guide will tell you all you need to know about the sport, whether you just want to start following or are interested in getting involved down at your local.
Though there are a number of different variations that we’ll cover later on, generally when people talk about darts they mean the two person sport played by professionals.
The mechanics of this game are, superficially at least, very simple. The two players take it in turn to throw darts at the board. They score according to where on the board their darts land. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the rules, it makes sense to take a look at this board.
The board is split into even segments as seen below:
The bullseye that you see labelled in the very centre of the board is worth 50 points, whilst the ‘bull’ (the green ring around the outside of the bullseye is worth 25 points. Moving out you’ll the board is split into twenty pizza slice-like segments numbered from 1-20. These numbers indicate how much you score for landing your dart in each section.
At first look it appears that the numbers are in a random order as you move around the board. However, this ordering is very important to the challenge of the game. The highest scoring segment, is in the top half of the bard, dissecting it vertically down the centre. This ensures that to hit the highest scores straight, true throws are required. The layout of the board further reduces the chances of players fluking a high score by alternating between higher and lower numbers.
As you can see on either side of 20, you have 1 and 5. This means if your throw veers from its intended target, you will suffer for it. If the numbers simply went around in ascending order, you’d have a big part of the board you could aim for without risking hitting a low number.
On the outer diameter of the dart board you see the double ring, which is coloured in red on black sections of the board and green on the white sections (these colour alterations don’t mean anything in particular they just make it easier to distinguish between the different parts of the board). If a dart lands in the double ring, then you score double the number of the segment you are in. So, say your dart landed in the red section at the very edge of the segment marked ‘3’ (which is in black, in the centre on the bottom half of the board) then that would score 6.
The treble ring cuts through the middle of each segment, making for a smaller target. As the name suggests, it trebles the score of a segment. As such, treble 20 is the highest scoring area on the board and is the one most often aimed for.
Professional boards are made of compressed sisal fibres, whereas cheaper versions are made of cork. The board should be 17 ¾ inches in diameter. The sections of the board are divided by a wire frame which fits over the board. This is known as the ‘spider’.
Of course, to make things fair all throws need to be taken from the same distance. The line from behind which throws are taken is called the oche. In professional play this is 7ft and 9.25 inches back from the board, but in causal play this is not always the case. (Most pubs don’t have a spare 8 feet of floor space to dedicate to darts. Besides, which the average punter most probably won’t have much success over the professional distance!)
You can move along the oche to the left or right to give yourself a different angle (which you may do if a dart you’ve already thrown is blocking off part of the board) so long as you’re behind it.
In formal competitons the oche is raised, allowing players to set their toes square against it.
Unlike the majority of other sports, in darts you start with a set score which you then have to attempt to bring down to zero. This just means that, when you score, the points you earn on each 'throw' (the term for each players turn at the oche, which consists of three darts) are deducted from you starting total.
Things are made harder by the fact that to ‘clock out’ (the term for reaching zero) you need to score the exact number of points you have left. If you score more than required (which is known as ‘going bust’), that throw doesn’t count. If that weren’t enough, the throw that brings you down to zero has to be a double or a bullseye. (For example, if you are on 10, you need to score a double 5 to win.) This final double is known as the ‘game shot’. In some leagues you need to ‘double in’, which means you also need to score a double on your first throw, though this doesn’t apply in major tournaments.
In all most all professional competitions players start on 501, though you can play from 301, 701 or even 1,001 with the same rules. The number always end in a one to ensure the players have to hit other areas aside from the 20 to win.
Given that a score of exactly 501 is required and that the last has to be a double, the least number of darts that you can achieve this in is nine (three trips to the oche). Achieving this is known as a nine dart finish and is basically an example of perfection in the game, similar to a perfect break in snooker.
There are various different combinations of scores that can give you 501 from nine darts, however, in practice it’s extremely rare to see any nine dart finish in which the first 6 darts are not all treble 20s.
If this is achieved, then the last throw needs to make 141. This will usually be done by of the below methods;
- Treble 20, followed by treble 19 with a double 12 game shot.
- Treble 18, followed by treble 17 with a double 18 game shot.
- Treble 20, followed by treble 15 with a double 18 game shot.
Though there are thousands of further combinations that can be used, they are not usually attempted. Though, again, you won’t see it happening in professional competitive play, many purists believe that the hardest, and therefore most perfect nine dart finish is to score treble 20, treble 19 and bullseye with each throw.
To give you a flavour of just how remarkable a nine dart finish is, in this clip you can see Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor pulling off not one but two in the same match, drawing a hysterical reaction from the crowd and commentators alike.
When a player ‘clocks out’ they take the leg. In some competitions the game is broken into sets. For example in The World Darts Championship each set is decided by the first to three legs and the overall winner is based on who takes the most sets (the number of sets required to win, varies from round to round). In other contest the whole match is simply a case of getting a certain amount of sets.
- To get the match under way you need to decide who will go first. This is normally decided by the toss of a coin, but in some instances both players aim for the bullseye and whoever’s dart is closest wins. Who goes first alternates between legs.
- Darts are only counted if they stick in the board or remain touching it with their point. Those that fall out, bounce off the spider or miss the board don’t score.
- If a player wishes to challenge the score called by the referee following a throw, he has to do so before retrieving his darts. A player can only challenge their opposite numbers score for a throw before their opponents next throw. Errors stand unless challenged in the appropriate time frame, and only the last throw made by either the challenging player or their opponent can be corrected as the result of an appeal.
- Though players can be told what they require they can’t be told how to get it. For example, you would be told you require 18 to win, but not double 9, which is what you’d actually need. Under pressure players do sometimes get it wrong, adding another dimension to the game.
- Darts can only be taken from the board once they have been called by the referee. (Though the referee’s are needed to adjudicate, in comparison with a sport like football, there aren’t really any though calls for them to make, so they also serve a secondary function of hyping up the crowd. It’s tradition for the call for a throw that scores 180 to be given in exuberant style, for example.)
Aside from the regulation board and the oche, the only other piece of equipment that’s needed to play darts is, of course, the darts themselves. The darts are not all regulation, i.e. they can be made of different materials and can come in different shapes and sizes depending on the player’s preference. However, according to the Darts Regulation Authority rules, they need to be no longer than 12 inches and no heavier than 50 grams.
The darts themselves consist of the point, the barrel (the part held in the fingers when throwing), the shaft and the fletching (or flight) which stabilises it’s flight in the air. You can find out more about dart types and their key differences here.
Whilst, there is not a special kit that darts players wear, in formal competition, players wear shoes, trousers and a shirt. These shirts are personalised (sort of like a boxer’s shorts) and can be quite flashy. For instance, check out Bobby George’s gold embroidery on this black number.
There are other parallels between darts and boxing. In professional competitions, players enter the arena to music, the crowds are rowdy (except for when a player is throwing, of course) and many players have fanciful nicknames.
Here’s a look at some extra terminology you might find it useful to know.
- Arrows: Another name for darts.
- Baby Ton: A throw of 95.
- Clock: The dartboard.
- Chips: This is a term for a throw of 26. 26 is a fairly common throw as 1 and 5 are either side of 20. As it shows wayward aim, 26 is something of an embarrassing throw. There are various other names for a 26 including ‘breakfast’ and a ‘pub score’.
- Fish A throw of less than nine, also known as a whale. To be avoided.
- Irish Ton: A tongue in cheek name for a throw of five, scored by two 1s and a treble one. The joke is that it would be a ton (see below) if the darts were a little to the right (i.e. in the ‘20’ segment).
- Lipstick: Treble twenty, because it’s red and has the slight curve of an upper lip.
- Maximum: A throw of 180.
- Robin Hood: One dart hitting another already in the board, like so.
- Scud: A dart that scores somewhere other than its intended target.
- Ton: A Throw of 100.
- Tops: Double 20, so called because it’s at the top of the board.
Other Dart Games
As well as the official sport there are a number of other fun games you can play with a dartboard, including:
Around the World: Players take alternate throws with the aim of hitting all the numbers on the board in ascending order. You can only move to the next number when you’ve hit the one you’re on. The first one to make it to 20 wins.
Cricket: This game just uses the numbers 15 to 20. Players take alternate throws of three darts each. Players need to hit each segment three times to ‘open’ it. This does not need to be done in any particular order. Doubles count as two hits and trebles as three. Once a player has ‘opened’ a segment of the board any player can score off it. However, once another player has hit it three times (or hit a treble on it, or a single and a double) it becomes ‘closed’, and can no longer be scored off for the rest of the match. When all the segments are closed the game ends and whoever has the highest score wins.
Halve It: You select a segment for your opponent to aim at. They take a throw of three darts. Anything they score in that segment (including doubles and trebles) is added to their score. However, if they fail to hit that segment at all, their score gets halved.
As well as selecting a segment, other more detailed and difficult commands can be made. You might ask your opponent to hit three different colours (out of the black, white, green and red sections on the board) or to get an exact score, or to hit any triple. This allows you to take varying skill levels into account.
Shanghai: This game is normally played in seven rounds. In the first round only the ‘1’ segment counts, in the second only the ‘2’ segment and so on. Each player gets a throw of three darts in each round. As only one section of the board counts in each round, getting doubles and trebles is very important to getting a winning score. As the game progresses the stakes become higher (for example two singles in round seven would outscore three trebles in round one). The game is ended instantly if a player pulls off a ‘shanghai’ – a single, double and treble in one throw.
- This clip has to be one of the most stylish throws ever. Adrian ‘Jackpot’ Lewis hits maximum, without even bothering to look on his last dart.
- Fancy betting on the darts? Visit our sports betting section.
- Find a darts team in your area.