Paul Nicholson demonstrates his favourite practice games on Sporting Life to help players of all abilities to stay competitive with their friends, family and rivals during lockdown.
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- Paul Nicholson's five mental tips
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Online darts is all the rage right now as players of all abilities strive to improve their game and keep their competitive juices flowing during this ongoing crisis that continues to keep conventional events off the calendar.
One professional who has been at the forefront of the online tournament scene with the Modus Icons of Darts league is our very own columnist Paul Nicholson, and this week he's revealing five fantastic practice games for you to try out with your friends and family online - or even at home if you live with them!
These will not only give you plenty of variation away from the traditional 501 style matches but will also help you work on specific areas of the game in a fun and challenging way.
The major winner, commentator and leading coach has now revealed all five games, so keep this page bookmarked throughout lockdown and beyond when you can play them back in the pub again.
Before we get started, the Asset says: "I would say 99.9% of the time the top pros don't play 501 against each other in practice because that's what we do in tournaments.
"The pros will practice in clusters and play a whole range of games and all the time we look for new ones to shake things us. The best ones will get you even sharper for 501 in a stealth like way and hopefully these five this week will do that.
"Pros want to be entertained when they practice because they don’t want to get bored. It’s great when players from other countries come over and bring a whole load of new games and ideas to learn – it’ll only improve the overall standard of darts."
PRACTICE GAME ONE: 121
- Work in a team of two or three and try to finish every score from 121 upwards - but with a maximum of nine darts between you only.
- Start on 121. You have nine darts to finish it. If player one, for example, scores 60 with his three darts, player two has 61 left to finish. If he leaves 40, then player one returns to the board - or the third player if there's three of you - and has just three more darts to take it out.
- If successful, then you move up to 122, but with a different player throwing the opening three darts.
- This process continues - try and work your way as high as you can.
- When you fail to take out the target with nine darts, you go back to the beginning. But...
- If ever you manage to take out the target on the first visit, that is called the 'Banker'. Any future misses means you only go back to the most recently hit 'Banker' score, rather than 121. For example, if one of you takes out 144 in three darts, then that's the number you drop to when you fail to take out the higher scores.
- Give yourself only six darts to make it harder
- If you are of beginner standard, then give yourselves 12 darts
PAUL SAYS: The theme of this week – echoing the advice from the NHS - is to stay at home but also stay in touch.
A lot of people have contacted me on social media to say they need some new practice games to keep them busy and get better, so hopefully these will not only do that, but also encourage them to get in touch with other people and try them against each other.
Or, in this game’s case, with each other as a team.
It’s designed for two or three of you ideally in a relay format, to take out each score from 121 and higher in no more than nine darts, finishing on a double of course.
If there’s two of you then take in turns to be the player who has the opening three darts and the last three darts. If there’s three of you, then make sure you rotate which player has the opening three darts.
You only ever go up one – so your next score to take out would be 122 and so on – but if you fail then you go back to the start or a stopping point that you’ve earned by hitting the checkout with the first three darts, which we call a ‘banker’.
So if you do this on 130, for example, and then any future score you fail to take out in nine darts, then you go back to 130 rather than 121.
I’ve played this game with world number one Michael van Gerwen plenty of times but also with members of the public at exhibitions who are nowhere near that kind of standard. It therefore provides a whole range of different challenges depending on who you’re playing with and it’s not too difficult or complex for those of varying abilities to enjoy.
I also used to play it a lot with Robert Thornton and Steve West every morning on Pro Tour events in a three – and it doesn’t matter how good your partners are, you never know what you’ll be required to hit until you step up on the oche.
The best place to be if in a trio is the middle – because you don’t have that same pressure to hit the double – but remember to make sure you rotate that order so you all experience all the different situations!
I remember vividly playing this game with Michael van Gerwen for the first time back in 2012 during the World Grand Prix, which he won. I’d never actually practiced with him before and we got from 121 to 170 in about 40 minutes. He hit at least 15 checkouts on his own and we just flew through it!
He’s sensational in practice. I’ve watched him play Barney during a practice session in the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney and they decided to play best of 13 sets – and Michael won 7-0 in less than an hour. I was on the other board next to him and I remember thinking “what on earth are you trying to do to him!
PRACTICE GAME TWO: HALF IT
- Play on your own at home or with friends/family/rivals online
- Try to earn as many points as possible by the time the first player achieves the final challenge on the scorecard.
- Start on 40.
- Work your way through each challenge on the scoring system from the top objective ('15') to the bottom ('bullseye').
- If you succeed then you'll earn points as detailed on the scoring system.
- If you fail then your overall score will be halved.
- Keep trying each challenge until successful.
- Start on 0 points to make life difficult
- Perhaps put a time limit on this of around 30 minutes, for example, to add extra pressure to achieving the challengers. Or a set number of visits per player.
- You can either set yourself a limit of how many attempts you get at each challenge - or keep going until you achieve it or until your total score goes to zero.
- At that point you can go into minus points or admit defeat!
PAUL SAYS: This is a tremendous game that I’ve played for many years, especially with Simon Whitlock and is not only for top players but also for those improving at the game who want to get sharper.
The scorecard is self-explanatory but you don’t have to start on 40 points – it just gives you a bit of a leg up in case you fail on the first challenge and drop back to 20 points.
The ’15’, ‘16’, ‘17’, ‘18’, ‘19’ and ‘20’ challenges are about getting as much as you can in those segments. Obviously trebles will boost your scores during those visits but if you miss all three darts at one of those segments, your score will be halved.
With the ‘double’ and ‘treble’ challenges you need to hit at least one of those to stop your overall score being halved. But the score you earn is just what you’ve managed by hitting trebles. So if you hit a treble 20 and two single 20s, you’ll score 60.
With ‘Three Colours’, you do need all three darts in a different colour to stop your score being halved but if you manage it, all three darts will score you points.
When you reach ‘65+’, if you score 66 you will add all of those points to your total – not just one.
The ‘triangle’ is just another word for segment so if you hit big 20 with your first dart, the other two will need to follow. A treble 20 wouldn’t count. If you hit treble 20 with your first dart, you’ll need to get the next two in there to stop your score being halved! All three darts have to be in the same segment. The ‘small’ single 20 is a different segment to the ‘big’ single 20, of course.
Nearly every game has to end on the bullseye, and Half It is no different!
You can of course make up your own challenges. For example, Kevin Painter and I once made up one called ‘minus 7’ where you had to score seven or less points just to avoid halving the overall score.
Simon Whitlock introduced the ‘Whitlock rule’ which is where you get a 100 bonus if you do a Shanghai in the ‘15’, ‘16’, ‘17’, ‘18’, ‘19’ and ‘20’ challenges.
Michael van Gerwen also has a different way of playing it where he starts with three lives. If you don’t succeed in achieving one of the targets in three visits then you lose a life.
I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on how they’d like to tailor this game and get in touch with me via Twitter @TheAsset180 .
PRACTICE GAME THREE: GOLF
- Ideally play against at least one other person
- Using a golf-themed scoring system, shoot a 'lower' score than your opponents over 18 'holes' and a three-hole play-off if scores a level.
- If playing alone, try and shoot your lowest score
- Each numbered segment on the board is a 'hole' and just like in golf you play 1-18 to complete a 'round'.
- So, starting on one, throw all three darts at it.
- If you hit a treble in that visit, you birdie it. If you hit a double, it's a par. If you only manage to hit the singles - even with all three - then it's a bogey. Fail to hit a single at all and it's a double bogey.
- Then it's your opponent's turn to play the 'hole'. Record both (or more if it's a threesome or foursome etc) scores and move onto the next.
- After 18 holes, see who has the lowest score.
- If level after 18 holes, you then play 19, 20 AND the bullseye for a three-hole play-off. It's not sudden death. The total over those three-holes will determine the winner.
- Holes 19 and 20 are played in exactly the same way as above but for the bullseye - the inner bullseye is a birdie, the outer is a par and miss all three is a bogey. You can't get a double bogey on this hole.
- If you're a beginner, treble can be an eagle, double a birdie, single is a par, and failure to hit any is a bogey.
- If you hit three singles at the right target, you could call that a par but don't make it too easy if you're a good player!
- The play-off can be sudden death if you really want.
PAUL SAYS: There’s lots of variations of ‘darts golf’ around the world but this is perhaps the most easy to follow and play for all abilities.
It’s particularly good for beginners and intermediates to see where they are at in terms of being able to accurately hit different, specific targets around the board.
Obviously you’ll be aiming at trebles to get birdies and intermediate players probably won’t go anywhere near the ‘doubles’ unless it’s approaching the end of a round in a very close match where a par might be good enough to seal a win.
They can also act as a kind of comfort blanket for beginners who might accidentally jag a dart into the right double.
It never gets boring because you’ll always want to improve and perhaps one day reach 18 under par!
When I play with the pros, a good score is nine under par because don’t forget, a lot of the targets like treble one to treble six are never usually aimed at in conventional play. And the most common trebles – 19 and 20 – are only used in this game if it’s a play-off!
PRACTICE GAME 4: HOG
- Go round the board from 1 to 20, but to move on you must throw two doubles into the same bed per visit. Then finish with two bullseyes.
- Do this before your opponent(s).
- Play against two or more opponents.
- Start on double one. If you hit it twice you’ll move onto double two AND also ‘hog’ the throw, meaning your opponent must wait for you to attempt your next target. You’ll keep hogging the throw every time you hit two doubles at the intended target.
- If you miss your first two darts at the intended double, you can obviously no longer move to the next. But, with your third dart you can still ‘hog’ the throw by hitting a bullseye. If successful, you can have three more attempts at the double you failed to hit.
- If you hit one double or fewer and also miss the bullseye, then it’s your opponent’s go. If playing in a three, then maintain the same order throughout.
- To finish the game, you must hit two bullseyes. If you hit one, you will at least hog your throw for another attempt.
- You can play around with the requirements to move on to the next target if this is too difficult, such as one double and the other two darts in the same single segment.
- If hitting two bullseyes in one visit is too tough for you at this stage, include the outer bull.
What a game! I’ve played this with Mark Webster at great lengths and it’s still one of my favourites, especially when preparing for double-start tournaments.
It’s a great way of sharpening up on the outer ring as well as the bullseyes so expect your overall game to improve by giving this one a good go.
As I explain in the video, you need to hit two doubles in the same bed of your visit to move onto the next number, but obviously if you miss with the first two throws, then you need to hit the bullseye to earn another visit at that same target without your opponent returning to the oche.
Hogging the throw is therefore how the game gets its name.
It’s immensely addictive when you get the hang of it. To make it easier to begin with, you can make it single, double hog.
Mark Webster once went on a streak of seven doubles and kept me off the board for about three minutes which was torture! It’s like being a snooker player stuck in his chair and nothing they can do about it.
There’s no defence in darts – a principle I always want to teach new players – and in this game there is even less if your opponent goes on a run.
It’s frustrating if your opponent keeps hitting a pair of doubles to move on and hog the throw, but equally so if they manage to pin the bullseye after missing the outer ring. They might not be moving further ahead of you, but they still keep the throw.
That makes you more determined to stay on the board when it’s your turn.
I know Dave Chisnall loves this game and I’m sure anyone who plays regularly in the World Grand Prix will know it well.
PRACTICE GAME FIVE: ONE DART DOUBLE RACE
- Hit every double on the board - and the bullseye - before you opponent(s), but you can only have one dart at each of the three doubles you aim at per visit.
- Start on double one and throw one dart at it. Whether you hit it or not, throw your second at double two and your third at double three.
- Cross the doubles you’ve hit off your list. If, for example, you hit double one, missed double two and hit double three, then on your next visit you’ll throw your first dart at double two, your second at double four and your third at double five.
- Should you hit three doubles in one visit, then return to the board again before your opponent gets another throw.
- Keep going round the board in this process.
- If, for example, you have just 19 and the bullseye left to hit, then your visit will consist of just two darts. If you have just one target left to hit then your visit will be one dart.
- You can make this game ‘one dart treble race’ if you want to focus your aim on the smaller targets.
PAUL SAYS: "I still love this game and play it a lot to this day. If you want to get better and become the kind of player who takes out doubles with one dart, then this is a great way to sharpen you up.
I first started watching Barrie Bates and Wes Newton practice this together on Pro Tour mornings and tried to work out what they were doing. They were saying numbers out loud that didn’t make any sense.
I remember Wes saying “15, 19, bull” and thought, “what on earth are you playing?!” So I went to ask them and they taught this game to me.
They explained you only get one dart at each double per visit but once you hit it, you don’t have to do it again. But you have to keep throwing a dart at the ones you haven’t got – so in theory you could have a visit which consists of aiming at double one, double 18 and the bullseye!
It puts pressure on every dart.
Not every professional will be too familiar with this game. Wes was a big advocate for it but on my last season on the PDC circuit I can’t remember too many practicing it.
I think it’s a game that needs to be revised, which is why I flagged it up in this series, because it really does sharpen you up for the pressure of doubles in competition.
Doing this with another player ahead of whatever tournament you might be entering will really get you focused.
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