For many people, darts is a casual game that’s first picked up in a college bar. Maybe the dartboard is nestled between a pool table and a Golden Tee Golf arcade machine. It looks easy enough, right? Throw the dart at the board and hope for a bullseye.
But for many enthusiasts, darts is far more than just a pub game. Several hundred of those enthusiasts will make their way to Pittsburgh this week to take part in the American Darters Association’s annual National Championship and vie for $55,000 in prizes.
Karl Remick is one of those enthusiasts, but he won’t be competing in the national championships. Nor did he start playing darts in bars. He was born into darts.
Remick’s father, Glenn, founded the American Darters Association (ADA) in 1990. Prior to that, Glenn had also opened a dart supply store in Massachusetts and founded both the Western Massachusetts Darting Association and the New England Darts Tournament Organization.
Karl had played “a game [of darts] here and there” with his parents growing up, but he didn’t start taking the sport seriously until college. He dropped out of St. Charles Community College in suburban St. Louis — the Remick family moved there to found the ADA — and “took more and more interest in the family business and decided to jump right in,” he says.
Remick is now the ADA’s vice president, while his mother, Gloria, serves as the company’s CEO after Glenn’s death in November 2009. And though the ADA is quite literally a family affair for him, Remick’s “family” includes more than 6,000 dart fanatics from at least 30 states — plus the 50-or-so members residing overseas.
From California to Maine, that family will be getting together for its annual reunion at the DoubleTree Hotel in Green Tree. Remick expects at least 500 members, players and spectators to be in attendance for five days of darts, beer and fun.
The ADA National Championship moves every year — making it one of few dart associations to do so — and this is its first time in Pittsburgh. Remick says the ADA picked Pittsburgh because it was looking for a location in the Eastern part of the country. Last year’s national championship was in the ADA’s home city of St. Louis, while the 2016 edition was held in Mesquite, Texas.
The ADA is also unique by being the only American dart association that offers both traditional steel-tip and electronic soft-tip darts. Each will be played at the national championship, which unofficially gets underway the day before actual events.
Every year, the ADA tries to put together an event so that soon-to-be-competitors can do something other than play darts. In previous years, darters have gone on brewery tours and attended baseball games, but this year, they’ll be touring the Three Rivers on a boat cruise.
“We try to do something fun and get out to all the members before the championship starts,” Remick says.
After a warmup day, the darters will spend four days trying to simultaneously throw as many darts and as few darts as possible. Confused yet?
The three types of darts at the ADA National Championship are 301, 501 and Cricket. Cricket involves landing darts on certain scores. To earn points on a score, a player must “open” the score by hitting it three times. (If, for example, a player was to hit the triple-20, then they would have just opened the 20 score in a single throw.) For every subsequent hit of an open score, the player scores that amount of points. A number can be “closed” if the opponent hits it three times. The game ends when all numbers in play — usually 15 through 20 plus the bullseye — have been opened or closed, and the higher-scoring player wins.
The other games — 301 and 501 — are practically the same, and each is far less complex than cricket. Those games involve throwing as few darts as possible to score exactly 301 or 501 points. Players must get their score to exactly zero by landing a double score; if they go below zero, to exactly one or to zero with a throw that’s not a double, they have “busted” and must try again. Thus, the strategy is simple: throw as few darts and score as many points as possible, then land a double to win.
Perhaps the most popular version of darts is 50. It features the fabled “nine-dart finish,” akin to a 300-point game in bowling. This notoriously tricky strategy requires the darter to throw six straight triple-20s (60 points apiece for a total of 360 points). That leaves 141 points to be scored to reach 501. If done correctly, the darter will have scored 501 points exactly in the minimum number of throws.
As the darters of the ADA descend on Pittsburgh for their annual family reunion, many of the most competitive members will be looking to throw nine-dart games, advance through the tournament and get their hands on the prize money. But for everyone involved, the national championship offers a chance to kick back with a cold beer, say hello to old friends and play a simple game that’s more complex than it looks.
American Darters Association National Championship
Wed., July 18 - Sun., July 22. DoubleTree Hotel, 500 Mansfield Ave., Green Tree. Free to attend.