NO this is not another article on the dangers of obesity, nor is it a guide to healthy eating for darts players. Instead, we’re taking a look at one of the most popular techniques adopted by players who seek to improve their game or restore former glories.
Over the past decade, AIM has encountered a number of professional players who have either endured a tough spell or who think that they need to add something to their game in order to improve their performance at the higher levels of the game. Almost all of them have flirted, at minimum, with increasing the weight of their arrows. When asked they all repeat the same mantras: “It will increase my consistency, I need to add some stability” “A little extra weight will help me increase my doubles percentage” or “As I have gotten older I feel I need more solidity” Personally, we blame Phil Taylor! The Power made a quantum leap late in his career by adding at least 2 grams to his standard weight. But those who cite Phil’s incredible effort forget the most important part of the change. Taylor not only changed weight but also transformed the shape of his arrows and his entire setup. Instead of a heavily gripped parallel barrel, he adopted a bomb shape similar to that of John Lowe.
Using the Stoke legend’s remarkable reconstruction as an excuse to go from, say, 20 to 23/24g, for no reason other than hope, is doomed to failure. Players who have achieved great success with 18-21g darts suddenly seem to think that adding multiple grams will improve their consistency and remove some of the small errors that have crept into their game. Often we find that this is merely a way to avoid tackling actual problems. Such issues can be technical or psychological but are rarely solved with such a blunt tool as weight.
We do not oppose change; indeed equipment assessment is a very early part of working with any new player. We have found that subtle changes in grip, flight shape, and even point type can assist players or add a small percentage to their performance. But we always ask: What is the perceived problem? What do you want to change? Why do you want to change it? How will you measure its success?
Older players may find that the sensitivity in their fingers has dulled and thus they may benefit from increasing the grip on their barrel. Elite players may benefit from using older darts in floor events and brand new sets on stage, or the other way around. Newcomers to the game should experiment with various weights and styles during practice and then play matches with the darts that feel most comfortable.
Like all rules or guidelines, there are exceptions. If you use a very light dart (12-17g) you may find that adding small amounts adjusts for natural changes in muscle elasticity due to age. Dennis Priestley (Above) gradually increased the weight of his darts, from around 13g, over more than a decade, to 17g. Wayne Warren added two grams in the months before his World Championship win; his form had dipped severely over the previous 6 months, although this was prompted by a wrist injury.
So, before you take the easy option and ‘blame your tools’, try smaller steps first. Make any changes one at a time and give every change a fair opportunity, in all conditions, to succeed or fail.
Our experience of working with highly talented players has shown that subtle grip changes, minimal profile adjustments, and working on confidence and relaxation are far more effective than dramatic weight gain. Again, in darts, as in life.
NOMINATING a TV major winner, who returned to reach the final of the Winmau World Masters twenty-one years later, as an ‘Unsung Hero’ may seem a bit of a stretch, but the label can certainly be applied to the USA’s Larry Butler.
An ‘Immortal’ on the other hand, seems fair enough, The Bald Eagle, now 63-years-of-age, and back playing after a severe heart attack laid him low in 2018, has a remarkable winning record and longevity that can only be matched, perhaps, by Paul Lim.
Butler first appeared on the steel tip scene in 1992 qualifying for the BDO World Championships in the year made immortal by the Taylor – Gregory final. That year’s field was immensely strong and the American lost out to Dennis Priestley.
These were tough times for the sport, with declining TV coverage and the newly formed WDC (PDC) struggling to gain momentum. The Ohio man retreated to the US and concentrated on soft-tip – claiming back-to-back (Bullshooter) World titles in ‘92 and ‘93 – only to return to the UK as part of the PDC’s inaugural World Championship in 1994 and was very unfortunate to be eliminated, in the group stage, on leg difference.
Within months Dayton’s tungsten titan was to write himself into the darts history books at the inauguration of another PDC flagship event, the World Matchplay.
The unheralded Butler made it through the first two rounds with relative ease, but his defeat of Jocky Wilson in the Qtr-finals the signal that he was a serious threat for the title. Wilson was playing well enough to have removed Alan Warriner-Little and Peter Evison in his previous two matches and yet Butler saw ‘the wee man’ off with relative ease.
Shayne Burgess also failed to halt the US thrower in the semi-final, with Butler narrowly missing a 9-darter along the way, there was only one man who could prevent him from lifting that famous trophy. That man was, however, Dennis Priestley.
Now, if they were being honest, a final match-up between these two would not have been the promoters’ or the TV people’s choice. Watch it today however and it’s a belter. Two serious and careful men, at or near the top of their game, giving a demonstration of methodical darts at its best. The nerves are on display from the very start as each man knows that the other can not be given an inch.
Despite missed doubles and Butler breaking in leg three, The Menace hit back with a 124 finish to keep things all square. Priestley then produced a spell of increased scoring power and edged into a 7-3 lead. Surely the debutant would falter?
Remarkably Butler hit back with five legs on the spin and moved into the lead. For the only time I can remember the commentary team admitted that Dennis had become rushed and was struggling to refind his successful rhythm. After 20 legs had been played Larry was ahead 11-9 and had won 8 from the last 10 legs played.
At 13-11, the pivotal moment came. Butler had gone off the boil and Dennis was swiftly down to a finish. With only one leg between them surely the more experienced man would come through? Yet, it was he who faltered. The Menace missed nine darts to take the leg and Butler produced a superb single dart, at an obscured double eight, to extend his lead and within a very few minutes he had claimed the two additional legs needed and the title was his by 16 to 12!
Tragically, for the US player at least, the game of darts was at such a low ebb that there was no Professional Tour to sustain a North American player at that time meaning that trying to earn a living, by travelling to Europe for the few TV events, was unsustainable and slowly but surely Butler drifted away from the top of the PDC game. A return to soft-tip saw him crowned World Champion for the third time in 1997 but other highlights were few and far between.
After those lean years, what is now known as the Pro Tour began to develop in earnest and a now 50+-year-old Butler made an attempt at it in 2008/9. Although he made only a minor impact he did record a 9-darter during a PDC event in Las Vegas and reached a quarter-final.
What was not noticed by UK darts officianadoes however was that Butler had started winning again in America. His record in the American Darts Organisation (ADO) events was outstanding, even more so for a ‘senior’ player. In 2010/11 he scored over a dozen event wins and seemed never far away from any U.S title he contested.
Over the next few years, he became, along with Paul Lim, what can be described as a hybrid darts professional: Soft-tip or steel tip, domestic or international, regardless of code. A real “have darts will travel” journeyman. Suddenly, the winning habit and all the work and ‘practice’ he was getting came together again. The Bald Eagle returned to the mainstream in a big way.
2015 had started quietly as Butler, along with Darin Young, represented the USA in the PDC’s World Cup of Darts. He returned to the USA and picked up the winning habit again immediately before returning to the UK where he produced a run of results few would have believed in advance.
First Butler stormed through the BDO field to qualify for one of their places in the PDC’s Grand Slam of Darts (Yes, a PDC World Matchplay Champion qualified for BDO spot!) his last three wins were over Glen Durrant, Wayne Warren and Scott Waites.
Brimming with confidence he then took his place at the Winmau World Masters where he again defeated Waites and added Scott Mitchell and the scalps Martin Adams. Playing from the last 272, reached the final. This time Durrant denied him the full fairytale. But it was not over for the now 55-year-old.
Two days later Butler bagged the English leg of the ADO World Masters before moving on to Turkey and claiming a Quarterfinal spot in the WDF World Cup and the Turkish leg of the ADO Masters series.
Returning to England to take up his Grand Slam place (possibly a little tired!) he did not progress from his initial group. Incredibly, he was still not finished, he returned home to claim three titles in a row before taking his place in the (BDO) World Championships at the Lakeside for the first time since 1992, reaching the last 16.
Although his 2015/16 efforts were noted at the time, they were not given the attention due. The Bald Eagle was flying between various continents while switching between codes, formats, or even types of darts. He was winning everywhere, against any class of opposition, it was a stunning run that should be credited as a blueprint for (particularly non-UK) players in the modern era.
Although Larry’s form stayed at a very high level in the US and some soft tip events, the demands on his older constitution saw a decline in major and TV results after 2016. Disaster struck when he suffered a heart attack after returning to Ohio following the World Cup in 2018. Fortunately, after multiple operations he made a full recovery and was back playing by the Autumn of that year.
Although not quite back to winning ways the remarkable 63-year-old was still reaching qtrs, semis and finals up until the spring of 2020 when Covid-19 forced him to rest his arrows once more. Almost beyond even Butler’s superhuman efforts he was back and reaching the semi-final of the Cherry bomb event in Florida last month!
It would be a pleasure to see a healthy Butler back at his best and perhaps in the UK for a Matchplay or World Seniors welcome and acknowledgment of his huge contribution to all forms of our game.
Today’s, darting isolation, drill/game of the day is called SwitchBlade. It’s a very simply way to get your eyes, & body, used to switching away from its main target. The art of ‘positive switching‘, to hit higher scores rather than from a maths views, was mastered and illustrated by Dennis Priestley, in his first World title run he amazed viewers with his habitual clocking of treble 18. This ensured he was swiftly ‘on a finish’ in minimum darts.
Players in the modern era (PDC and Sky TV), have developed switching to a fine art. Some such as Adrian Lewis and Micheal Smith almost seem to prefer it. Let’s get you more proficient, and automated, at this:
SwitchBlade aims to improve your accuracy and fluidity when switching from one treble bed to another. This applies equally to switching due to vision blockage or to ensure leaving a finish.
As with many of our drills it is based around five turns at the board:
Turn 1 : Aim for Treble 20 with all three darts.
Turn 2: Aim your first two darts at t20 then your third at t19
Turn 3: Aim your first two at t20 then the third at t18
Turn 4: Aim your first two at t20 and the third at t17
Turn 5: Aim your first two at t20 and third at the Bullseye
t20,s20,t20 = 140
s20,t20,s19 = 99
t20,t20,t18 = 174
s20,s20,t3 = 49
t20,t5,Bull = 125
Total = 587
You can vary this drill in many ways, you can use 1 dart at the treble 20 and two at the others or insert a treble you use often from scores such as 180 or 191. Most often used are t13 or t14.
N.B: The core skills are in the template above and that’s the one we use most.
SwitchBlade can be played by any player and doing it regularly will improve your overall play. Higher level players should really push themselves to get this to be second nature.
Level One – For those starting from a lower bar the first order of business is to hit the target aimed for so the 2 in the 20 segment and then one in the aimed for switch. If you manage this for each segment you will gain a score around 299.
Level Two – You should be aiming to hit one treble 20 or one on the switch. Scoring visits should total around 100 (+/- 10). Thus the total will be 450+
Level Three – You should now be looking to hit two trebles quite often. When you don’t hit two you should still be hitting one. Scoring visits will be regularly 131+ and predominantly 91+. Scoring regularly over 550 will put you on a level with our best players.
SwitchBlade requires rhythm and calm, a competitive streak also helps! The highest score, hit with marker/witnessed, is 659. On this one, we shall keep the record hitter to ourselves. It was struck during a private prep session for a very big name a few years ago!
Enjoy SwitchBlade and drop us a line to tell us how you’re doing. Comment below or tweet us
Published previously in abridged form on dartsworld.com (@Darts_World)
As part of A.I.M:‘s contribution to The Ultimate Guide to the World Championships (2019), we introduced the PDC’s annual darting extravaganza via a ‘Talking Points Style’ segment:
“Talking Points” – At the Palace.
The Venue –
When looking for a new, and larger, venue after the huge success of the 2007 World Championships, the PDC could hardly have found a better option than “the peoples palace”.
Despite being used as a circus venue, exhibition hall and even a refugee shelter, over its 140+ year history, Alexandra Palace has a long association with darts. The hugely popular News of the World event held its finals at the London venue with the raucous, but entertaining, atmosphere from the 1960’s being preserved in YouTube clips. The Ally Pally has provided fairytales, excitement and no little drama, right from its first year as host. Rank outsider Kirk Shepherd made the final that first year only to be felled at the final hurdle by Darth Maple (John Part). Every year since, thousands of fans, often in highly original fancy dress, have flocked to witness the next chapter of this fabulous story.
The Trophy –
Sid Waddell was known as “The Voice of Darts” and credited by many with helping to popularize the game in the 1970’s, and keep it alive during the leaner times.
Sid combined a unique use of language with an enthusiasm, and love for the game. that can barely have been matched. Quotes such as “When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer… Bristow’s only 27 “ have become legendary and Sid is remembered with affection by millions.
Sid’s death in 2012 marked a generational and style change in darts. The decision to commission a new PDC World Championship Trophy, named after Sid, was warmly welcomed by those connected to both the game and broadcasting alike. Fittingly it was Phil “The Power” Taylor who emerged triumphant in 2013 and claimed the Sid Waddell Trophy upon its debut.
The Prize –
Winning the PDC World Darts Championship is now a life changing matter. The first holding of the event, in 1994, earned its first champion, Dennis “The Menace” Priestly, the princely sum of £16,000.
Although this was not to be sniffed at it can hardly be compared to today’s prize. The total prize fund for that first championship was £64,000, this year’s event will offer £2,500,000. The winner’s cheque will be a cool half a million pounds (£500,000). In many ways this is just the beginning of the rewards for the 2020 champion. Sponsorship and exhibition fees are boosted massively, by having a World Championship on your CV, and qualification for every event, for the next two years, is assured. Most players will value the place in the history books and the holding of the Sid Waddell trophy as equally important, but their families may well benefit more from the financial rewards available.
To say the PDC World Championship is worth a million pounds, to the winner, is no exaggeration. Leighton Rees’s £3000 reward, for the first ever darts World Championship, suddenly seems a long time ago. However, money is not everything and the fact that, Welshman, Rees is fondly remembered as, both a fine player and, a lovely individual, should remind us that the place in the history book of darts, and on the list of World Champions , is priceless.
A version of this feature first appeared in The Ultimate Guide to the World Darts Championship in December 2019.