After watching Michael van Gerwen defeat James Wade to win the partypoker sponsored Darts World Grand Prix, Lee Davy takes a look at what poker can learn from the progress that Darts has made from a pub game to a world renowned sport of skill.

The first time I ever hit a 180 in a game of darts I nearly wet myself. I must have thrown thousands of arrows, in my lifetime, and I have only ever hit that top mark on two occasions.

There is some serious skill involved in the game, and that’s why, in 2005, Darts was officially recognized as a sport by the Sports Councils in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

From that point onward the sport has blossomed.

Suddenly, central funding was provided for the sport, lucrative television deals were signed, and the players started to win some serious wonga. The greatest darts player to have ever lived, Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, has taken more than £6,000,000 from the game.

It Wasn’t Always That Easy

It was an arduous fight to gain that recognition. Darts portrayed an image of overweight beer drinking louts, throwing some arrows at a board down the local pub, with fags hanging from top lips.

Even the televised tournaments allowed players to drink alcohol, and smoke cigarettes, during the games. Sponsorship deals with well-known tobacco companies also creating a crisis of image for the sport.

In March 1999, in response to Colchester MP Bob Russell’s push to see darts recognized as a sport, a writer in a local rag wrote, “So Colchester MP Bob Russell wants darts to be classified as a sport. What twaddle, it is a pastime – a pub game at best. It is up there with Monopoly and tiddlywinks.”

The Make Over

Darts needed to change if it was going to evolve and the push came from the British Darts Organization (BDO), who lobbied the government for recognition, and found some voices within parliament who were willing to take up the fight.

The players also cleaned up their act. Professionalism was the order of the day. Beer drinking was replaced by exercise and endless hours of practice. Alcohol and cigarettes were banned from the television shows, and the tobacco industry sponsors dropped like the bad habit they were promoting.

As people like Taylor started to show outrageous levels of skill and accuracy so the live televised events started to attract fans in there hundreds. Soon a darts event held an atmosphere that got the hairs standing up on the back of your neck with more passion that a match at Wembley.

What Poker Can Learn From Darts

For many years darts was recognised as nothing more than a pastime that was played down the local pub. Poker is sometimes recognised as nothing more than a pastime played down the local casino. Both images promote a certain seediness, and a lack of professionalism.

So how did this image change for darts?

Quite simply, the players changed. The game is still played in pubs up and down the country, but it was the professionalism of the players that drove the change in the game, and we need the same thing to happen in poker.

Alex Dreyfus, the CEO of The Global Poker Index (GPI), has already decreed that there will be a dress code when the inaugural Global Poker Masters (GPM) takes place in Malta, next year, and those are the sort of changes that we need to see take effect for our game to be taken more seriously.

Recognition as a Sport

The breakthrough for darts came in 2005, with that vote of confidence from the UK Sports Councils. Being recognized as a sport, even if it was within its own borders, was a huge step forward.

Dave Brannan, the CEO of Mindsports International, will tell you that poker is already classed as a sport – a mindsport. But from the middle of this thing it doesn’t feel like we have that recognition. We need to feel it. Just like darts learned to feel it.

Lobbying

Darts had a central organization that looked after the welfare of its sport. What does poker have? The Poker Players Alliance (PPA)? The International Federation of Poker (IFP)? The Federation Internationale de Poker Association (FIDPA)?

Hand on heart poker players, do you recognise any of these as your governing council? With all due respect to the hard work that all three of them may do – I don’t.

Barry Hearn is the Chairman of the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), and also the owner of Matchroom Sport: a company that has produced televised poker tournaments like the World Poker Tour (WPT), and the partypoker Premier League.

We could do a lot worse than to have someone of Hearn’s experience pushing poker towards parliamentary doorsteps.

And what about Alex Dreyfus and the GPI?

Why not give the Frenchman our backing?

The Future

I am not sure what the future holds for poker. It’s difficult to see. But we can draw strength from the game of darts. As poker fights for recognition as a game of skill, the professional organisations behind darts are still lobbying hard with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) about seeing darts played in the 2024 Olympics.

Now that’s a long way from the days when Eric Bristow played against Jocky Wilson, on a smoke filled stage, that housed tables full of pints of lager.

If darts can do it, then why can’t we?

Seven Ways in Which Darts and Poker Are Similar

After reading Lee’s excellent article are you sat wondering what other similarities there are between darts and poker? We thought of seven, can you think of any others that we may have neglected to list?

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1 Comment

  1. Some rewriting of history–Darts first became a mainstream TV sport when beer and cigarettes were socially acceptable, one of the main reasons for its success was the big money prizes brought in by tobacco sponsorship, but perhaps more importantly, the main commentator was Sid Waddell.

    The Cambridge history graduate was the son of a miner who brought his working class roots AND incredible wit to the commentary box.

    To hear “When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer….. Bristow’s only 27,” in a broad Geordie accent was unforgettable–and it made darts a socially acceptable game to watch, and play.

    This first phase of darts as a mainstream TV, big money game ended when the government banned tobacco sponsorship–that took the money out of the game, and interest died. It was the dart’s equivalent of Black Friday–the government killed the game just as the US DOJ killed poker in the US, at least as a mainstream activity.

    Otherwise, I think you are spot on. Online poker can learn from the renaissance of darts, from the active lobbying and transformation of the game into a sport.

    I wrote an article in pokerfuse calling for a European organisation to lobby for poker–but what we really need is a global professional association. I suspect that organising poker players is similar to herding cats–it would take someone of enormous status to do it.

    Nice article, thanks