THE OPTIMAL DARTBOARD

MATHS PROFESSOR REDESIGNS DARTBOARD

Back in the mid-1970s Darts World carried the news that the London or Trebles board had at last been recognised as standard for all major darts tournaments in the UK. In 2012 the dartboard was examined by a university professor and some changes suggested. The result: ‘The Optimal Dartboard’.

Some time during the last years of the nineteenth or the first few years of the twentieth century, wireworker Thomas Buckle of Dewsbury, West Yorkshire devised the numbering of the dartboard which is recognised around the country and around the globe today as ‘standard’.

A Yorkshire Board

Buckle had in his possession a London ‘Fives Board’; a dartboard comprising of twelve segments numbered (from the top and clockwise) 20, 5, 15, 10, 20, 5, 15, 10, 20, 5, 15, 10. The wireworker toyed with the board and then expanded it to twenty segments reading clockwise from the top, 20, 1, 18, 4, 13, 6, 10, 15, 2, 17, 3, 19, 7, 16, 8, 11, 14, 9, 12, 5. The board (pictured, courtesy of NODOR International) was marketed locally and sold so well that it eventually became known as the ‘Yorkshire’ or ‘Doubles’ board. During the subsequent decade or so the board was ‘exported’ to London where a treble ring was added but the numbering sequence remained the same.

For nearly ninety years Buckle’s devious numbering system was memorised and played by millions of darts players, no one giving much thought to whether or not it was perfect mathematically. However, all this changed when Professor of Mathematics, David Percy, of Salford University, reviewed the situation publishing the results of his research in the academic journal Mathematics Today.

As a result of Professor Percy’s deliberations, the board was to a large extent re-numbered, that action removing the apparent bias towards those relatively new to the game. Percy dubbed the new board the ‘optimal dartboard’. As soon as the research became known the WINMAU Dartboard Co. Ltd. produced the Optimal Dartboard in very limited numbers. Some of you may recall seeing one being tested on BBC TV by Bobby George in the presence of Professor Percy at the Lakeside World Professional Darts Championship tournament at Frimley Green, Surrey January 2013.

The Optimal Dartboard

I think it’s truly amazing to think that a professional mathematician took time out to look into the numbering of the standard dartboard. Well done to him. Professor Percy’s board does actually remove the bias towards the beginner by ensuring that the segments run odd-even-odd-even whereas the standard dartboard has groups of odd and even numbers which help anyone new to the game.

But how did professional darts players greet the ‘new’ board back at Lakeside in January 2013?

I spoke to a few top players at Lakeside at the time and some simply couldn’t see the point whilst others understood what Professor Percy was trying to do but believed, as I do, that it would never catch on. Bobby George later commented, “It’s a Mickey Mouse gimmick. It’s the same board and same numbers but in different places; not much difference counting wise.” 

Ian Flack, Sales and Marketing Director at the WINMAU Dartboard Company told me, “It was great to transfer Professor Percy’s ideas from paper to dartboard. Our specially adapted WINMAU BLADE 4 dartboard went down well at Lakeside and has generated a lot of interest elsewhere.”

Dr. Darts bemused by the Optimal

Talking of which I was lucky enough to obtain a specially adapted BLADE 4 dartboard from my sponsor WINMAU. The blatantly obvious posed image of me shows the Optimal Board within a cabinet surround which shows the standard numbering. Thus darts fans can clearly see what has and has not changed following Professor Percy’s deliberations. (Image © 2013 Moppix International. Used with permission.)

So with the reception from the professional players at Lakeside being mixed I decided to take the board into a couple of my local bars in Maldon, Essex to see what the grass roots players thought of it.

First stop was The Carpenters Arms where I invited customers to try out the dartboard. At first they were slightly confused by it. The key numbers 20, 19, 18 and 17 all remain in the same places on Professor Percy’s board but the change that irritated most was that the 16 segment, usually next to the 8 segment had been moved way up the board to where the 12 segment used to be and the double 4 is where the double 7 used to be!

My best friend Colin and I then took on two of the best players (Sean and Marcus) in a best of three 501 using the Optimal dartboard. We lost 2-1. Our next port of call was the Maldon Constitutional Club where folks were equally intrigued but similarly bewildered by the ‘optimal’ numbering.

The general view of customers and players was that the optimal dartboard would never catch on. I don’t ever expect it to either but it’s a worthy experiment and brings some fresh attention to the sport.

© 2013-2019 Patrick Chaplin

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