So, you’ve been staring at the dartboard in your local bar for a while, and you’re thinking of learning how to play darts. There’s a little more to it than just throwing tiny arrows with reckless abandon – the best darts players are precise mathematicians who know the tiniest flex of a finger can change a game.
You don’t have to be a pro to enjoy the game, though. Below you’ll find everything a beginner needs to know about how to play darts, including different darts games to try. If you’re looking for more tutorials, be sure to check out our guide to how to play shuffleboard, how to play dominoes, and how to play chess while you’re here.
Here’s how to play darts in four different ways:
- How to play 501 darts
- How to play Cricket darts
- How to play Around the Clock darts
- How to play Killer darts
Understanding the dartboard
No matter what type of darts game you’re learning to play, you’ll always use the same dartboard. And it helps to know what you’re aiming at.
A dartboard is divided into 20 segments, with a two-colored ‘bullseye’ in the center. Each segment also has an outer ring and an inner ring, usually colored red or green. Typically, a dartboard is 17.75 inches in diameter, and it’s mounted on the wall so that the bullseye is at eye level (five feet and eight inches is the official height).
How to score darts
The large areas of the segments are ‘singles’ segments, meaning they score the number associated with that segment. A dart that lands in the outer ring scores double that number, and a dart in the inner segment triples it. Landing a dart in the outer bullseye is usually worth 25 points, and the inner bullseye scores 50 points.
How to throw darts
Darts players must stand 237cm away from the dartboard when throwing darts. Typically, a line is marked on the floor for players to stand behind. Everyone gets three darts, and they throw all of these before removing them from the board and passing the turn to the next player.
Before throwing a dart, you’ll need to stand in the appropriate position. Place your dominant foot (the one that matches your dominant hand) forward, leaning on it slightly without leaning too far forward.
Then, hold the dart between your thumb, index finger, and middle finger. Your fingers should hold the dart at its center of gravity. To find this, balance the dart on your index finger until it stays level, and then place your remaining fingers to hold the dart in place.
(Note that this isn’t the only way to hold a dart. If it’s uncomfortable for you, it’s perfectly fine to shift your fingers. But we recommend it as a basic beginner hold.)
When you’re ready to throw, raise the dart to eye level. Pull the dart backwards and then throw it forward in as straight a motion as possible. You don’t need to apply too much force, so focus on throwing straight rather than throwing hard.
How to play 501 darts
Number of players: Two players or teams
501 darts is the most popular variant of the game, and it’s the one you’ll come across if playing competitively. Each player or team starts the game with 501 points (or 301 in the shorter version). When a player has thrown all their darts, their score is subtracted from the total.
A player or team wins when they reach a score of zero, but they must score exactly zero with their three darts for the turn. If a player reaches one or goes below zero, their turn is ‘bust’. Their turn is over, and the score returns to the number it was at when their turn began.
How to play Cricket darts
Number of players: Two players or teams
In a game of Cricket darts, you only want to aim for certain segments of the dartboard – 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, and the bullseye. Players or teams need to score three of the same number, either by:
- Landing three darts in a singles segment
- Landing a dart in a singles segment and another in the outer ring
- Landing a single dart in the inner ring
The outer bullseye counts as a single score, and the inner bullseye counts as a double.
Once a player or team scores three in a segment, they ‘own’ it and can score points as normal by landing darts in it. When an opponent scores three in that number, the segment is ‘closed’ and can no longer be used to score points by either player or team.
Once all segments are closed, the player or team who closed all segments first and has the most points wins. If scores are tied, the first player or team to close all segments is the winner. If a player or team closes all segments first but has scored fewer points, they must keep playing on any segments not closed until they’ve beaten their opponent’s score – or that opponent closes all segments themselves.
How to play Around the Clock darts
Number of players: Two
In Around the Clock darts, players must land a dart in every segment of the dartboard, starting at one and leading up to 20. Then, they must place a dart in the outer and inner bullseye – do so first, and you’re the winner.
Numbers must be completed in order, and a player can’t progress to the next number until they have landed their shot. As traditional scoring isn’t important, the inner and outer ring of each segment is ignored.
How to play Killer darts
Number of players: Three or more
In Killer darts, each player throws a dart with their non-dominant hand at the board. The segment they hit assigns them a number (if they hit a segment already owned, they throw again). Each player also gets a number of lives (three or five are typically good numbers to choose).
With numbers assigned, players can go back to throwing darts with their good hands. Each now takes turns trying to hit the outer ring of their number – and once they do, they become a ‘killer’.
After that, the killer aims for the outer ring of an opponent’s numbers. If they land a dart there, that player loses a life. If a killer hits their own double again, they lose a life instead. The last player in the game is the winner.
We at Wargamer love trying (and teaching) the very best board games. Now you’ve got darts down, why not learn how to play Backgammon or Scrabble strategies to help you win the classic board game every time?