PETALING JAYA: Many Malaysians write off the sport of darts as a casual game to be played between friends while drinking the night away at the local watering hole.
Those who have tried their hand at the game often see it as an activity that is largely based on luck, with near-impossible chances of hitting a bullseye.
But to Nancy Ambrose, darts is a game that requires analysis and calculation. She should know, as she is the founder and president of the Malaysian Darts Association.
She is also a former national darts player who has won several international tournaments for her country.
Ambrose was introduced to the sport of darts by a friend and she went professional in 1987, as an employee of Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TMB), participating in a local inter-agency tournament.
Since then, she has travelled the world, taking part in tournaments as far away as Las Vegas.
“Darts is the only sport I fell in love with when I was introduced to it. I just got carried away,” she told FMT.
And she finds the misconceptions people have about the game distressing. “People don’t understand the game. They think it is about just throwing the darts onto the board. There is so much more to it than that.”
Calculation is just one of the many elements that come into play when playing a game of darts.
She explained, when preparing to throw a dart, the player has to focus on where they want it to land, how to score as much as possible and how to finish the game as efficiently as possible.
In seconds, they have to do the calculations in their heads, bearing in mind how many points their opponent has, how many points they have left on the board and what combination will allow them to “check out” on top.
Interestingly, the bullseye is not the point of the dartboard that gives the highest possible score. It is a spot called the triple 20, in the triple ring above the bullseye.
Players must also work out the weight of the dart that works best for them. One player’s darts may not be of the same weight as another’s, and every player has a dart weight they are most comfortable with and perform best with. All this knowledge is vital to being a good darts player.
“Where do you hit? What are your next targets then? If you miss the target, what do you do? So, you need to be very quick in your calculations,” says Ambrose.
Darts is a game of focus. Practice is not enough if the player cannot block out everything and focus on the dartboard and the darts they hold.
Mental preparation is everything, said Ambrose, and shutting out distractions like crowds of rowdy spectators or poor lighting is vital to perform well.
Getting a grasp on all this information takes time, training and much more to master them.
Unlike most other sports, women have a significant presence in darts, more so now with more women taking up the sport worldwide.
“Now women are out there playing equally with the men,” Ambrose said. “Even in Malaysia.”
At first, reaching the finals in the competitions she entered was reward enough. “But after two years, I finally said, ‘No. No more playing bridesmaid. I want to win’.”
Even with all her determination, winning at tournaments, including the Malaysian Open, was no mean feat and she takes pride in challenging herself to do her best. The annual international darts tournament often draws 800 to 900 participants.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has left the tournament in limbo. “We are not sure if we will be able to host the Malaysian Open because of social distancing,” said Ambrose.
As an international player, she has travelled extensively, which was interesting. But she said there was a downside to her frequent travels. “It takes up a lot of your family time.”
Even when she was not away for international competitions, the need for constant practice meant she was rarely home.
“It took my family time away. After work, we would go and train for eight hours and then go home in the wee hours of the morning. And the next morning, we would just get up and go back to work.”
For people interested in picking up the sport, Ambrose has one piece of advice, “You need to have passion. If you want to do it for fun, it’s fine. Pick up three darts and just throw them.
“But if you really want to pick up the sport and go far, you need to put in the hours and learn the correct technique from the correct people.”