The Empress Ballroom is a Grade II Listed Building that is owned by Crown Leisure Ltd on behalf of Blackpool Council. The impressive venue was built in 1896; it was designed by local regional architects Manghall and Littlewood of Manchester and was decorated by J. M. Boekbinder. The ballroom itself has over 20,000 square feet of floor space, making it one of the largest in the world. The Victorian era building was designed with a high barrel vault ceiling with square coffers that segment the vault and are decorated with patterned panels. There are a number of elegant glass chandeliers that are hung from the ceiling and light up the whole gold painted ceiling. Alongside the main aisle there are emporiums, with huge viewing windows between the Corinthian columns that hold the relief structure that holds the barrel vault. All in all it is a hugely impressive ballroom and has been used by the Royal Naval Admiralty and as a popular dance venue until the 1960s. In recent years, it has hosted the World Matchplay darts as well as the Blackpool Dance Festival and annual ballroom dance competitions.
Darts Scoring System
Before explaining the structure of the World Matchplay darts competition, it is important to know the basics of how darts legs are played. Each game, which is called a leg, is played between two players who both start with 501 points and each time they throw a dart on the dartboard, the points are taken away from their score. The first player to reach 0 wins the game, and if a player goes below 0, they have to try again in their next throw. The players throw three darts during each shot.
The dartboard is a round board that is divided into 20 segments that are numbered. The middle has a larger circle, called the outer bull or single bull, and there is an inner circle called the inner bull or double bull. Landing a dart in the single bull is worth 25 points and landing a dart in the double bull is worth 50 points. The other sections are numbered, from 1 to 20 and darts that land in these segments are worth 1 to 20 depending on the number of the segment. There are also two thin rings that go around the outer circumference of the circle, and also around an inner circumference. Landing a dart on a section of the outer ring will be worth double the value of that particular section. Landing a dart on the inner ring will be worth triple the value of the segment. This means that the highest points a player can score in a single throw is 60, which is on the inner ring at the 20 segment.
Each player starts with 501 points and they have to reduce that value to 0 with each shot, and they throw in alternating shots of three throws each. If a player goes below 0, this is called going bust, in this case the shot will not count and the player will have to wait for their next shot to try again. There is also a rule that players must finish the game by throwing a double. This may sound complicated, but it becomes quite simple after watching a few games. Whilst there are many numbered segments, there are some common combinations that players used to try and win the game.
The fastest way to finish a game is in nine shots, this is called a Nine Dart Finish. In three shots, with three throws in each shot, the players can achieve 501 and throw a double at the end, satisfying the rules of darts. The first two shots need the player to throw six triple 20s, which are worth 60 points each. This means they will have to reach exactly 141 points in their final shot.
The three main combinations players use are the
- triple 20, triple 19 and double 12, or 60 + 57+ 24, which comes up to 141 and finishes on a double
- triple 20, triple 15 and double 18, or 60 + 45 + 36, which comes up to 141 and finishes on a double
- triple 17, triple 18 and double 18 or 51 + 54 + 36, which comes up to 141 and finishes on a double
Another combination that players can use, although more rare, is a Nine Dart Finish with the same score across all three shots. This means the 501 will be divided into three, which comes to 167, and players need to score 167 in all three shots. This can be achieved by throwing a triple 20, triple 19 and double bull, which comes up to 60 + 57 + 50, which adds up to 167 and can finish on a double.
Structure of the World Matchplay
The competition is played between 32 of the top darts players in the world across nine days of constant action. In the current format, the players go head to head in the first round in a first to 10 legs match that must be won by at least 2 legs. If the tie reaches 12-12, the match goes to sudden death. In the second round, the 16 winners of the first round play in a first to 11 legs match, which also must be won by 2 legs and goes to sudden death at 13-13.
The 8 quarter finalists play in a first to 16 legs match and also need to be 2 legs clear to win the match, with sudden death at 18-18. In the semi finals, the 4 contenders play in a first to 17 legs match, needing a 2 leg advantage to win and sudden death at 19-19.
The finals are played in a whopping first to 18 legs, and the match must be won by at least 2 legs, with sudden death at 20-20.
Winners and Nine Dart Finishers
All of the winners of the World Matchplay since its inauguration are
1994 - Larry Butler
1995 - Phil Taylor
1996 - Peter Evison
1997 - Phil Taylor
1998, 1999 - Rod Harrington
2000 through to 2004 - Phil Taylor
2005 - Colin Lloyd
2006 - Phil Taylor
2007 - James Wade
2008 through to 2014 - Phil Taylor
2015, 2016 - Michael van Gerwen
2017 - Phil Taylor
2018 - Gary Anderson
2019 - Rob Cross
2020 - Dimitri Van den Bergh
2021 - Peter Wright
The players who made Nine Dart Finishes in the competition are
Phil Taylor in the 2002 quarter finals
Raymond van Berneveld in the 2010 first round
John Part in the 2011 first round
Michael van Gerwen in the 2012 second round
Wes Newton in the 2012 second round
Phil Taylor in the 2014 second round
Gary Anderson in the 2018 quarter finals
Phil Taylor is one of the most iconic darts players, and helped raise the popularity of the game with his success. Retired now, he won 16 World Matchplay competitions, and is the breakaway leader with the most titles. He is followed by Michael van Gerwen and Rod Harrington who have both won 2 titles.
Though it seems impossible to overtake Taylor, it is important to note that he was 34 when the competition was created, and played well into his 50s and was still winning the competition. Michael van Gerwen was born in 1989, which already gives him an advantage as he has a lot of time left in his career to catch up with the leader. Winners Rob Cross and Dimitri Van den Bergh are even younger, being born in 1990 and 1994, respectively. Though what Phil Taylor managed to do is no easy task to replicate, there are some promising darts players who show the potential to catch up with the legendary English winner.