Equal Darts

How much of an advantage is playing from the first position? At the highest level of competition in steel tip 501, winning against the darts still occurs with some regularity due to the difficulty of the game and the exhaustive length of matches but in soft tip 501 this situation is becoming a detriment to the game, as I believe it will to steel tip eventually.

Way back the game being played was 301 and as the skill level of shooters increased something had to be done about the advantage of playing from the first position so the folks in UK lengthened the game to 501. Next they lengthened the game to 1001, and in some instances 3001, but soon dropped that approach in favor of extending the length of matches by playing more games of 501. They are still looking for a way to overcome the advantage of going first while testing the ability and consistency of the competitors.

The way a high level competitor gauges how well they play is different in soft tip than in steel tip. For comparison's sake we'll leave how ending the game is accomplished (D in D out, O in D out, O in O out) out of this and concentrate on the part of the game of getting the score down.

When competing in steel tip its how many big scores you make that defines whether you get first chance at the win. When competing in soft tip its how many darts you miss that defines whether you get first chance at the win. This may sound the same but it is not. Three turns is the best it gets in steel tip: 180; 180; 141 and four turns is as good as it gets in soft tip: 150;150;150; 51.

Why not go for a three turn game in soft tip? The bull's eye is large enough that it is much easier to hit eleven consecutive bulls' eyes than to hit eight consecutive triples. The bulls' eye is so much easier to hit than the triple twenty that it has become the preferred scoring area. A top shooter, on their game, is as likely to hit a perfect game as not. A solution might be to play split bull so scoring 50 becomes much more difficult because the double bull is only about the size of a dime but that has not been the way things have gone so far. So the situation for soft tip competitors remains, and a shooter who decides to go for a three turn game will put themselves at to much of a disadvantage to take a chance.

In steel tip, the battle seems to have gotten to how, when and which person shoots for the bull to decide who gets the advantage of going first. It's a sign of how competitors see the significance of being first which is a measure of the skill level of the competitors. This battle occurs at tournaments but not so much in league play in America. The skill level of local players hasn't risen to the point where going first really shows its advantage. Finishing 501 where each competitor has two or three turns at the double negates the advantage of going first. Being the first at the double is only an advantage if the person hits the double. Once a competitor going first misses the double, it becomes a struggle to see who can hit the thing and having been the one who first had the opportunity is not significant.
Back to defining who gets first chance at the win through skill at scoring. In soft tip the difference is, more often all the time, one dart; the one which misses the bull. It is important to not miss a dart in soft tip because the likelihood of competitors both having that level of skill is common.

In steel tip the difference is, most often, hitting a big score one more time than the competitor because the likelihood of both competitors having that level of skill is limited by the highest scoring area, triple twenty, being as difficult as it is. Hence - the measure in soft tip is how many darts you miss and the measure in steel tip is how many darts you hit.

This means the separation between winner and loser in soft tip is much narrower than in steel tip. Between two equally skillful, high level competitors, being first becomes nearly the deciding factor for who wins and has begun eroding the whole thing about who is better at the game. Steel tip may be facing this same situation in the not to distant future and may already have at the professional level.

I believe being first should not be so important to the outcome of a contest. The determinant for winner or loser should be skill at the entire game. There are many more people capable of soft tip four turn games than there are those capable of three turn games in steel tip so this detriment to competition is more pronounced in soft tip.

So- what would happen to competition if we were to eliminate the advantage of going first? I submit this would be a very interesting prospect. The fact that the person being second in order of play would have the opportunity to tie, or beat, the person in the first position, because they used fewer darts to reduce their score to zero, would add a level of drama to competition which is currently not there. This would make the contest much more interesting, don't you think?

Now to explore how, or if, this could even be done. Let's start with soft tip since that is the game most in need. The current machines can not accommodate the change; they are programmed so that as soon as a score is reduced to zero the game is over. This makes the difficulty and cost of reprogramming the computer an obstacle. Before considering the reprogramming obstacle a conversation needs to begin concerning whether soft tip people would even want the change to occur, and that conversation might be very trying.

The concept of equal darts is not one which very many people have ever heard of, let alone considered playing. The situation of having ties, where the whole game would need to be re-played, is foreign, and as with everything different there will be those who will object on those grounds alone. It's always been this way so that's how it should always remain will certainly be the mantra of many. But the conversation should begin. In soft tip there may even be a chance equal darts could be added as another option programmed into the machine. After all, soft tip is American and Americans are into changing and modifying and trying to improve things.

The situation with steel tip is better - and worse. There is no machine to change and no cost involved so the switch to equal darts would only take the will of the people playing the game, and this it the better part. But - there is that 'tradition' thing that so many people get hung up about, which is the worse part. I imagine there will be a whole bunch of people who will reject any such change out of hand simply because it is not how the game is played. Any attempt to improve/ change the game will be met with resistance but I believe the removal of the advantage of going first should be discussed. Or, to put this another way, the person using the fewest darts should win the game.

Just think how the out shot thinking would change. For an example: with both competitors having fifty left how would your approach change if you were shooting first?

Where do you stand? Do you think it is better to try to improve the game or stick with the game the way it is? Are you even willing to consider such a thing as equal darts?

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