Every dart player has their own personal ‘bogey’ opponents and there are also some who nobody want to face – regardless of their quality on the oche.
In this week’s column, Paul Nicholson picks out a handful of examples from his career down the years, including an American who was thankfully not good enough to have a high-profile career!
I think most readers knew Justin Pipe would be top of this list – but it’s certainly not a vindictive selection.
There are three reasons why everyone hated playing Justin.
Firstly, he was slow, particularly in the early stages of his career. Ridiculously slow.
I remember playing him in June 2009 – I won 6-4 but it took 45 minutes! I was looking round thinking ‘is he playing games with me or is he really this slow?’. I’d never heard of him before so other players watching from behind the rail nodded at me. They could read my mind.
Secondly, it’s the perplexing way his darts somehow stay in the board and how distracting it can be. I’ve never been able to figure out how they don’t fall out and I don’t think anyone else has. He’s the only player who has managed to hit treble 20 and cover the bullseye with his flight!
It was almost like his darts defied physics and combined with his speed, you felt like you were in the most unelectrifying match possible – regardless of how stylishly you played.
Remember, there’s two parts of a game of darts. One’s playing, the other is watching. So if you can’t be patient when up against opponents like Pipe or Gilding, you will lose many battles. It’s not always about how well you play – it’s about how well you respond to what they do.
Thirdly, he became exceptionally good! At the back end of 2011 he started winning tournaments and defeated some big-name players such as Phil Taylor and Gary Anderson. I think he even beat Taylor in his first Pro Tour final in Dublin.
Slow play, distracting style…and good! What a nightmare.
Fans had a love hate relationship with him – on the one hand it was tedious to watch but on the other, it was strangely hypnotic. I heard a story once about a player who approached their agent and said: “Justin Pipe is playing Mark Walsh at the World Championship today but I’m not sure whether to watch it or paint the second coat of the paint on my wall.”
The agent replied: “Or a third option – watch the first one dry.”
This, by the way, was certainly not a reflection on Mark Walsh!
Justin was a world class player and once reached top 10 in the rankings at one point in his career.
That put him in the frame for the Premier League but there was always that joke that even if he ever reached world number one, he still wouldn’t be picked. Stylistically he wasn’t ideal for the razzamatazz of an event like that but he didn’t deserve any of the nasty trolling – nobody does.
Mensur Suljovic is the other ‘obvious’ choice and would probably be the first name on Gary Anderson’s list!
Earlier in his career when he wasn’t widely known, people underestimated just how good he was. You’d think it was quite a decent draw but he’d then tear you to shreds.
It was his variety of pace that would upset your rhythm. He’d have a slow leg and then a quicker leg and it really could be quite unsettling! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with changing pace and most will prefer to stay the same for their own rhythm.
But Mensur plays the game differently with his throwing speeds and I often struggled to adapt, even though I did have some good wins against him. I defeated him in the World Cup and World Championship but then lost the next six before winning our last encounter in 2018 with a 100 average.
You just didn’t know what you were going to get from Suljovic and what pace of game you’d be playing in. At least with Justin Pipe, you were prepared!
Everyone loves Richie Burnett because he’s one of the funniest and most lovable players in darts.
But when you play him, it’s a real test of patience and a test of how much you want to watch the game that’s going on!
I’ve played him in many countries, a wide variety of settings and different types of tournaments but no matter where he is, it’s like someone is electrocuting him when he throws!
He’ll also react to a bad dart more than anyone else on the planet. We all throw bad darts and get unlucky deflections, but I’ve never seen anyone react with such passion to those moments than Richie Burnett.
As his career progressed, the back leg kicking out got more pronounced and I learned you really had to keep extra distance.
But the most important thing I learned was to never watch him throw!
I once played him in Wigan at a Players Championship event and my game plan was just to stare at the floor when he was at the oche. I was playing pretty well but then out of the corner of my eye I could see a lot of movement and activity.
I kept saying “don’t look, I know it’s happening but don’t look. It’s got nothing to do with me.”
I beat him 6-1 and someone asked me how I coped. I replied “I didn’t watch.” Most people will look because in some ways it’s entertaining – but it will also put you off.
I can’t write this column without a mention of a notorious player in America – even though you probably won’t have heard of him.
Davis ‘Slow Hand’ Snider.
I’ve never met this guy but I’ve seen footage and he was the emperor of mind games in North American darts. He would honestly sometimes take two minutes to throw three darts – it was insane.
I saw a video of him playing Paul Lim – who has the patience of a saint – but two minutes for three darts should be illegal!
Stateside, everyone could see him coming a mile off. But if you travelled from abroad to face him without knowing about his reputation, you’d be in for a huge shock.
It would all end in tears…and sometimes in blood!
There was a very infamous story about a time Davis won a match after playing so painfully slow that it ended up in a fist fight and the bollards that separated the boards at this tournament were knocked over.
Two other players had to pull Davis’ opponent off him but they were probably on his side!
We all have players we struggle to beat and mine was Raymond van Barneveld. I couldn’t beat him! We played each other 10 times in professional competition and I lost the lot.
There are several others I could have included in this list such as Andrew Gilding and Steve Lennon – neither of whom I defeated in five and four meetings respectively for whatever reason – but Barney was a real headache for me.
After suffering a couple of early defeats to a certain player, it then starts becoming a mental battle in future meetings. Everyone has those opponents when you are reminded how many years or matches it’s been since you last beat them – and it does play on your mind.
With van Barneveld, it was really perplexing for me because every time I played him in an exhibition, I’d beat him. But in competitive action – whether it was in floor events or majors such as the World Cup or World Matchplay – it was like coming up against a totally different player.
I defeated him in an exhibition in Llanelli once and thought ‘right, I’ve cracked it’ then soon after I met him in ranking action, and he walloped me!
Two of the last three meetings I lost 6-5 and in the World Matchplay back in 2011 he edged me out 13-9 – so I did occasionally get close, but he just had the answers at the end.
We’ll probably never play each other again so it’s a record I can’t put right.
It’s good to be someone else’s bogey player – I beat Ross Smith in all five of our matches including one where he led 5-1. He had his parents watching over the rail but I used the psychological advantage to claw my way back and win 6-5. His facial expression at the end said “how do I beat you?”! That power you can have over certain players is amazing because you know when you step on the oche, you’ve won a bonus leg before you’ve started.
I felt that way against John Part, who I beat in each of our first six meetings before he finally ended the streak 6-1!
My record against Wes Newton wasn’t disastrous – he won 10 of our 14 meetings – but I had to wait a long time for my first victory.
It came in my best ever season in 2011 at a Players Championship semi-final in Crawley, and after scraping through 6-5 I went on to beat Terry Jenkins for the title.
I remember the relief of that 13-dart leg to finally beat him at the sixth attempt and I looked up to the sky and said “finally!” so loudly that the tournament director told me to be quiet due to the other semi-final being played at the same time!
After that I thought “right Wes, you’ve had your time against me, now things will change” but how wrong could I be.
No player has taken more ranking money out of my pocket than him – it’s as simple as that.
He beat me in the 2012 World Grand Prix - when I was enjoying my best run to the quarter-finals – but only after I’d missed the bullseye to win. Then he defeated me in the final of the European Darts Trophy after I’d missed match darts again but the most sickening loss came in the World Matchplay of 2014.
Wes won 15-13 and that game alone gave me six months of anxiety. My matches against him will take up a lot of pages in my book one day – I have no qualms with Wes at all. The matches will live inside the dark side of my heart forever due to the 100s of 1000s of pounds that they’ve cost me.
Most players will have particularly close pals on the circuit and sometimes they can be the hardest to the face.
I’ve actually got a 9-8 record against Jamie Caven so most people reading this might be thinking ‘why did you not like playing him’?
But Jamie and his family were so kind to me in the early part of my career and welcomed me into their home whenever tournaments were held in Derby or Barnsley – it was like going to my own house. That’s how comfortable they made me feel.
So imagine how uncomfortable it was to play against him to take food off his table!
There were other players I didn’t like facing due to having great friendships with them like Robert Thornton, Mervyn King and Steve West but it was different with Jamie. He was just so generous to me in my life so that’s why I always found it really tough to get the results against him.
I first played him in a semi-final in Ireland back in 2009 and only just won it 6-5. It was emotionally sapping and all of our other matches were just the same!
You’d assume Michael van Gerwen and Vincent van der Voort might have similar difficulties when they play each other because their friendship is as tight as anything while we’ve also seen brothers on the oche such as the Huybrechts and the Wests.
Ronny held a 4-3 head-to-head record over Kim but Steve West clearly had no problems against Tony, beating him 6-0 with a 110 average in a Euro tour event once.