GAMESMANSHIP

HAS IT ANY PLACE IN PROFESSIONAL DARTS?

It’s a while now since darts hit the headlines in some of the national newspapers and on-line when an escape of ‘gas’ disrupted the match between Scotland’s Gary Anderson and the Netherlands’ Wesley Harms. (Image below © Lawrence Lustig/PDC. Used with permission.) Sad really that it takes a professional darts player passing wind on the oche to attract the attention of newspapers, other than occasionally the tabloid press, to darts.

GRAND SLAM OF DARTS, ALDERSLEY LEISURE VILLAGE, WOLVERHAMPTON PIC;LAWRENCE LUSTIG/PDC

‘Fartgate’ aside, it is acknowledged that top darters need to be on their best behaviour both on and off the oche at all times. They have far too much to lose, both in terms or money and reputation, especially in the PDC where disciplinary action through the DRA can see a player side-lined for ‘x’ number of matches for bringing the sport into disrepute. “Fair enough”, I say. 

Whether ‘Fartgate’ can truly be regarded as gamesmanship, I’m not sure. Certainly the sudden passing of foul wind was a distraction and presumably therefore ‘gamesmanship’. But gamesmanship is nothing new and, I would suggest, in decline for the reasons mentioned above. Players are watched more closely these days than ever before.

The dictionary definition of ‘gamesmanship’ is, ‘skill in using ploys to gain a victory or advantage over another person’: basically, in sport, the art of putting your opponent off. English author Stephen Potter subtitled his book Gamesmanship (1947) ‘The art of winning games without actually cheating.’ Surprisingly, Potter applied his ‘art’ to darts, his advice including that you ‘Question your darts opponent closely on the exact area of the dart where he deems it wisest to exert maximum thumb-and-finger pressure.’

Back in the supposedly ‘good old days’, when smoking was allowed during darts matches at all levels of play, those who smoked were sometimes tempted to (or actually did) puff smoke across the sightline of their opponent, the purpose being of course to merely distract him or her or, more likely, to impair their vision – or both.

Gamesmanship – Making silly faces

Amongst the tactics employed in the past by such darting ne’er do wells are, as you are about to throw, standing behind you and clicking their darts together, talking to themselves (but within earshot), talking to you (“Oh. Good shot!”), shuffling their feet, clinking their water jug and glass, playing with small change in their pocket, clearing the throat at opportune moments (that is usually when you are about to throw), coughing and whistling. It might also be achieved simply by making silly faces behind a players’ back which would result in an unexpected reaction from the crowd, which would distract and possibly confuse the player, as witness the accompanying photo of Stefan Lord and Bobby George in 1982. (Image: PC/DW Darts Archive. Used with permission.)

However, in today’s modern game, an incursion by an opponent into, in the case of the PDC, the exclusion zone around the throw area constitutes a serious offence.

Then there is the simple disruption of a game by an opponent or both players which results in an argument, for example back in 2012 when England’s Adrian Lewis and Wales’ Ritchie Burnett were involved in an altercation which was eventually smoothed out by referee Russ Bray. (Image below © Tip Top Pics. Used with permission.)

In any darts tournament at any level the referee’s or official’s attention should be drawn to any incident of this kind if he or she has not already realised what is going on. But over and above any of these wily manoeuvres of gamesmanship there is one that is allowed as it is not breaking any specific rule: the art of slowing down the speed of the game.

CASH CONVERTERS PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP 2012 ROUND 1 , ADRIAN LEWIS V RICHIE BURNETT

This is achieved primarily by one of the players throwing their darts at a slower speed than would normally be expected and then taking just a little more time to remove their darts from the dartboard before returning to their position standing the approved distance behind their opponent.  Slowing down a game can directly affect the opponent’s rhythm and concentration which then leads to them making mistakes which is, of course,  the sole aim of gamesmanship.  The opposite, naturally, is speeding the game up by throwing your darts faster than your opponent in a bid to unsettle him or her by pressing them to throw quicker than they would normally do.

But incidences of gamesmanship on the PDC and BDO circuits have reduced over the years. What is the real point of it anyway? Some years ago when Phil Taylor was asked about acts of gamesmanship in the professional sport of darts he replied, “If you are practising gamesmanship, you cannot be fully concentrating on your own game.”

Good point. Absolutely right.

With so much more prize money available in the professional game today and with the referee(s) and the DRA on their case who, in their right minds, would indulge in something that could result in them being banned from the lucrative PDC circuit for ‘x’ amount od weeks or matches?

So today it seems that, in the main, gamesmanship is confined to the pub/club oche. In friendly games rather than organised league matches, gamesmanship is often seen as part of the fun of playing casual darts. In such cases each player is expected to give as good as he or she gets.

Copyright 2019 Patrick Chaplin

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