“That is the most incredible leg of darts you will ever see!”, screamed Sky Sports commentator Wayne Mardle as Michael Smith completed a perfect nine-dart finish in the 2023 World Darts Championship final against Michael van Gerwen. Van Gerwen had the chance to complete the same feat just moments before, yet missed the final throw. Such perfection from both competitors in one leg of darts has never been seen before, and it produced a scene of chaotic celebrations inside Alexandra Palace – with fans in fancy dress leaping to Planet Funk’s “Chase the Sun”.
It does not take a flawless performance like this to cause celebration in the Worcester College bar, where I have started playing darts. The occasional throw in the treble twenty zone is enough to turn heads, a shot that the professionals can hit with ease. This gulf in quality is what makes casual games of darts so enjoyable. Each high-scoring dart is appreciated, regardless of whether it was accidental or not.
With nothing on the line, these games are driven by the anticipation of momentary brilliance.
Something that makes darts unique from many other sports is its simplicity and consistency – the conditions are identical every time you step up to throw. Training for most sports comes with the limitation of not being able to fully replicate a matchday/raceday tactic until the day itself, darts is the opposite. For this reason, the potential to improve at darts is always present – with each level of this improvement, new feats are possible.
Smith’s nine-darter during January 3rd’s final is a prime example of this. The achievement involves reaching the target score of 501 in nine throws – the minimum possible number. Despite being two of the most talented players in the sport, this level of perfection was by no means guaranteed. This parallels the reason darts is entertaining for a casual player, even at the highest level there is still that anticipation of the unexpected. What makes this standard of darts even more remarkable is the presence of a thunderous crowd, a huge factor when considering the already significant focus required to perform well. Smith went on to win the final 7-4, securing his position as world number one for the first time.
An often long and repetitive match of darts is filled with small victories that defy expectation – an expectation that varies depending on the standard of the game. While I will not be getting anything close to a nine-dart finish for a long time, the prospect of improving at darts seems both realistic and enjoyable. This constant chase of momentary brilliance is why the sport is lovable.