Darts 101: How to Play, Games and Rules, and Proper Technique

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Darts 101

Not many games are as versatile as darts. You can play by yourself, with a friend, with several friends, or with a large group of teams. You can play at home, inside or outside, at a bar, or even a break room at work. There are many different games that you can play, and multiple variations of those games.

A dartboard is a great addition to your home gameroom. Your family will enjoy it, and it’s great for entertaining.

This article covers all the basics of darts: what you need to play, basics of the game, different games that you can play, how to throw darts correctly, as well as safety precautions.

What You Need to Play

  • A dart board (bristle, electronic, or magnetic)
  • At least 1 set of 3 darts (can be soft-tipped, steel-tipped, or magnetic)

There are different types of dartboards, but the standard dartboard is 18 inches in diameter and has 20 numbered sections shaped like pieces of pie. There is a double ring on the outside and a triple ring further inside. The bullseye is in the center. There is an outer bull and an inner bull. The inner bull is worth 50 points and the outer bull worth 25 points. This type of dartboard is sometimes called a “clock” dartboard. The 20 section is at the top and the board should be flush against the wall. Optionally, you can have a scoreboard on the wall as well. Most electronic dartboards have an LCD scoreboard display. See our recommendations for the best dartboards (bristle and electronic)best darts (steel tipped and soft tipped)best dart flights, best dart cases, best electronic dart scoreboards, and best dartboard surrounds.

Darts Basics

There are a lot of different games and ways to play, and even different dartboards.

The board should be hung so the bullseye is 5 feet and 8 inches from the ground, according to the Professional Darts Corporation.

If playing with steel-tip darts, the toeline or throwing line is 7 feet and 9.25 inches from the dartboard (this distance is referred to as the oche), according to the National Dart Association. If playing with soft-tipped darts, the toeline is 8 feet from the dartboard. You can mark the line on the floor with tape, paint, or chalk. Some tournaments use a small wooden board that sticks up from the ground as the throwing line.

Dart board

Rules of Different Dart Games

There are many different games that you can play. Here is a summary of the rules for several popular games.

Game: 501

Player of team starts with 501 points (can also be played with 301 points). You win by being the first to reach zero. This game can be played by two or more players or teams. A player or team throws 3 darts, and the scores from those throws are subtracted from 501 until the player or team reaches 0.

You must throw a double to hit zero. For example, if you have 40 points remaining you must hit a double 20 to win the game.

This can be played as a single game, or as a “best of” series. For example, best of 5 (first player or team to win 3 games will win the series).

An optional rule, is that the players must start and end the scoring with a double. Under this rule, at the beginning of the game no points are awarded until the player throws a double.

Game: Cricket

There are either two players of two teams. Only numbers 15 – 20 and the bullseye are in play. Each player or teams takes turns throwing three darts in succession. The throwing of three darts is referred to as an inning or a turn. The player of team must score three of a particular number in order to close the inning. This can be done with three singles of the number, a single and a double of the number, or a triple of the number.

When a player or team scores three of a number in one inning, that player or team “owns” the number. After both players or teams have scored three of a particular number, that number is closed and no more scoring will take place from that number by either team or player. Numbers can be owned or closed an any order. For example, you do not have to start at 15 and work up to 20. After a  player or team has “owned” a number, that player or team can continue scoring points on that number until the opponent closes the inning.

For closing the bullseye, the inner bull is a double and the outer bull is a single. So to get three, you would need one outer bull plus one inner bull, or three outer bulls.

To win the game you must be the player or team that closes all the innings first, and has the most points. If points are tied, the player or team that closes all innings first is the winner. If you close all of the innings first but you are behind your opponent in points, in order to win you must score on any numbers not closed until you are ahead of your opponent in points.

Game: Killer

Killer is usually played with three or more players or teams. To start the game, each player or team throws a dart with his or her off hand (with your left hand if you are right handed, and with your right hand if you are left handed). The number hit becomes that player or team’s number for the game. If the number has already been taken by another player or team, or if the throw misses the dartboard completely, the player makes another throw.

Each player or team will throw three darts in succession. First, you need to hit the double of your own number. Once you have done this you become a “killer”. After you are a killer you can aim for the doubles of the numbers of other players or teams. Each player or team has three lives. Whenever a killer hits a player or team’s double, that player or team loses one life. So the object is to kill off all of your opponents. But you also lose a life is you mistakenly hit the double of your own number. The game ends when only one player has any lives remaining.

Game: Baseball

Baseball can be played by two or more players or teams. There are nine innings, and each player or team will get a turn to throw three darts in the inning. Only numbers 1 – 9 are in play, and only one number per inning. In the first inning, only the number one is in play. In the second inning, only the number two is in play, and so on. Scoring is the same for each inning, regardless of which number is in play. A single is worth one point. A double is worth two points. And a triple is worth three points.

At the end of nine innings, the player or team with the most points wins. If the score is tied after nine innings, the players or teams who are tied will continue with extra innings, starting with number 10. If one player or team leads after 10 innings, the game will be over. If it is still tied, the game will keep going.

Game: Shanghai

Shanghai is somewhat similar to baseball. It can be played by any number of players or teams. The numbers in play are 1 – 7, and there are 7 rounds or innings. In the first round or inning each player or team will throw three darts in succession, and points can only be scored on the number one. In the second round or inning points can only be scored on the number two, and so on.

Unlike baseball, the scoring will be different for each round. In the first round you will earn one point for each dart that hits the number one, so the most you can earn is three points. In the second round you will earn two points for each dart that hits the number two, so the most you can earn is six points. And so on. The possible scores get higher each inning.

At the end of the seven rounds or innings, the player or team with the most points wins the game. The other way to win is by scoring a Shanghai. A Shanghai is when you get a single, double, and triple of the number in play with your three darts. If any player or team gets a Shanghai, the game is over and that player or team wins.

Game: Around the World or Around the Board

This game is played by two or more players or teams. Each player or team throws three darts in succession. In order to win you must be the first player or team to hit each number, 1 – 20. You can hit a single, double, or triple, but you cannot move on until you have hit each number in order. For example, you must hit one first, then attempt to hit two, and so on.

Game: 20 to 1

20 to 1 is a variation of Around the World. In 20 to 1 there can be two or more players or teams, and each player or team throws three darts in succession. You must hit each number is succession, starting with 20 and going down. After going all the way down to 1, the player must get a bullseye (outer or inner) to win.

Game: Legs

Legs can be played with two or more players or teams. All numbers on the board are in play, with singles, doubles, and triples being used for scoring. Each player starts with three legs. One player or team starts by throwing three darts in succession, scoring as many points as possible. The next player must score more points that the previous player or lose a leg. The last player with a leg remaining is the winner.

Game: 51 by 5’s

This game can be played by two or more players or teams. All numbers on the dartboard are in play. Singles, doubles, triples, and bullseyes are used for scoring. Each player throws three darts in succession.  In order to keep any points from your round, the total number of points earned in that round must be divisible by 5. For example, if you had a single 5 and a double 10, that would equal 25 points earned. Twenty five divided by five equals five, so you would score a five for that round. If your score from the round is not divisible by five, you keep no points from that round.

The game goes on until one player or team reaches 51. But in order to win, the player or team must score all three darts in the final round (so if you have a number divisible by five after two darts, you can’t miss the board entirely on your third dart).

How to Throw Darts

There are a lot of different styles and techniques for throwing darts. Let’s take a look at the basics of grip, stance, and throwing motion.

How to Grip or Hold the Dart

The first aspect of properly throwing a dart involves your grip. While there are different techniques, what is most important is that you grip or hold the dart in a way that is comfortable and natural for you. There is no right or wrong way to hold the dart.

  1. Grip the dart just tight enough that it does not slip out of your hard, but not so tight that it puts pressure or tension on your fingers.
  2. The more fingers you use for the grip, the more control you can have. But more fingers on the dart also means that you will need better finger coordination so they are all releasing the dart together.
  3. Any fingers that are not used in your grip should be spread apart from your other fingers that are used for the grip. Be sure that these unused fingers are not bumping up against your other fingers or pressing against your hand.
  4. While there are a lot of different ways to grip a dart, the most common options are to use your thumb, plus two or three other fingers. The photo below shows an example grip using the thumb, index finger, and middle finger. The thumb and two fingers are lightly gripping the dart. The ring finger and pinky finger are kept away and not touching the other fingers.
How to Grip a Dart
Example grip with thumb and two fingers

Proper Stance for Throwing Darts

The correct stance is also important.

  1. If you are right handed your right foot should be at the edge of the toe line, and your left foot behind it.
  2. Your feet and shoulders should create a 90 degree angle to the toe line. This places your throwing should in front of you, facing the dartboard.
  3. You weight should be mostly on your right (front) foot, with your left foot mostly for support and balance.
  4. Lean forward very slightly.

If you throw left handed, this would be reversed. Your left foot would be forward and your right foot in the back.

Proper stance
Proper stance

Arm Motion for Throwing Darts

  1. Keep your shoulder still.
  2. The motion should be in your arm, with the rest of your body still.
  3. The tip of the dart should be slightly up. If the tip is turned down, even just a little, it will have trouble sticking when it hits the board.
  4. Use your eyes to line up the tip of the dart with your target on the board. Focus on the target.
  5. To start the motion, keep your elbow still and move your forearm back towards you to generate some momentum and force.
  6. Move your arm forward in the throwing motion. Keep it smooth and steady.  You want some acceleration to throw the dart with some force, but you want to be under control.
  7. As you extend your arm to throw the dart, your elbow should move slightly up. Sometimes you’ll hear that you should keep your elbow totally still, but this is not true. If your elbow is stationary it will cause the dart to go below your intended target.
  8. Follow through with the motion after you release the dart. Your hand should wind up pointing towards the target. You can either snap your wrist or keep it locked. Snapping the wrist will give the throw more force, but uses more motion that you will need to control in order to have an accurate throw.
Starting position before the throwing motion
Starting position before the throwing motion
Extending to throw the dart
Extending to throw the dart

This video may be helpful.

Safety Precautions

Never place  the dartboard where people will be walking between the throwing line and the dartboard. Don’t place the dartboard near windows or other breakable objects. Darts can bounce off of the dartboard or the wall behind it, so keep participants and observers back to avoid being hit.

You can use a mat to protect the floor. You can also use a surround to protect the wall behind and around the dartboard.

Have Fun!

Most of all, make sure that you have fun and enjoy the game with your family and friends.

About the Author Alberto Restrepo

I live in Pennsylvania with my wife and four children. Time with family is very important to me, so I started Gameroom Vault to help others find fun ways to spend time with their families at home.

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