By: Tony Payne
Originally published in BuBullseye News
Battle Tested Cricket Strategies that are Guaranteed to Crush Your Opponents!
In some ways 1984 seems a very long time ago; in others, not so much. The Oakland Raiders won their third Super Bowl that year, I remember that. (I won some money.) The space shuttle Challenger made the first-ever landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. No one could’ve ever imagined then its fiery fall to come just two short years later. The Cosby Show also premiered that year, and despite the absence of midgets, millionaires or anything resembling reality, for some reason we were all still entertained. I guess those were simpler times.
In 1984 stone-washed jeans also became all the rage, Apple introduced the Macintosh computer, the internet was just beginning (its web neither world nor wide yet), and pop star Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire. It’s funny the things you remember.
Ronald Reagan was also re-elected by landslide that year and while he worked on the world stage to continue staring down the Russians in hopes of officially ending the cold war, another quiet but commanding voice was coming of age in Owenton, Kentucky; one that was destined to inspire its own brand of arms race, albeit one waged on a much smaller scale. It was a voice that would soon change our sport and, in particular, the game of Cricket forever and… for everyone.
Tony Payne, now there’s a name from the ‘80s. Who in our sport could forget?
He played his first game of Cricket in 1977 in Bowling Green, Kentucky. To say that he was taken with the sport from the start would be an understatement. Even in those early days he would frequently venture north to Cincinnati to, in his words, “Get my ears trimmed,” as he tested his growing skills against top players there. But it wasn’t until attending Western Kentucky University that he became truly hooked on the game and began to wonder, in earnest, if a professional career might one day exist for him in darts.
In 1983 he put that notion to the test. Knowing that he could never reach his goal by just playing at night and on the weekends, he borrowed $1,000, and set out on a western states tournament tour that took him to Denver, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Bernardino, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and then on to Las Vegas. His goal was simple: If he could just win two singles championships —just two— he’d be on his way and it didn’t take long…
While he fell just short of his two-win goal on this first quest, he did manage to capture three top-4 finishes along the way, and emerged number one in Phoenix; a strong showing to be sure for his first time out. So strong, in fact, that his winnings not only repaid the grand he’d borrowed for the trip, but also built in him the confidence he needed. Add to this the fact that he was also invited to become a member of Bottelsen’s HammerHead Team on the San Francisco stop that year, and well; for Tony Payne the deal was cinched. He could make a living playing the game he loved. He could become a professional darter. It was a decision that history would soon support.
By the end of 1983, his very first real year on the tournament circuit, Tony was already ranked 6th in the American Darts Organization (ADO) standings; and by the end of the following year, 1984, his singles titles included victories at two major events: the Cleveland Extravaganza and the Queen City Open. Not to mention his Cricket pairs win with Mike Geiger at the Lucky Strike Filters Windy City Open, among others that year.
From there, his rise was nothing short of meteoric.
His long list of accomplishments in the ‘80s include becoming a five-time, consecutive member of the US World Cup Team, which in 1985 famously snatched the Men’s Team Match from England 9–nil (not any easy feat by any means), and placing second only to Eric Bristow in the World Cup Singles that same year. Among his many other stellar performances, Tony also recorded 5 singles championships at the Cleveland Extravaganza, won both the Pro Cricket Singles and Pro 501 Singles at the BullShooter World Championships and capped off a decade of dominance with a singles victory at the $50,000 Lucky Strikes Challenge of Champions in 1990 (an an event that was near and dear to our hearts, as we actually owned and ran that event). In short, Tony Payne emerged from the 1980s as one of the most dominant players America had ever seen.
Yet, nearly 25 years later, many of the younger players of today (those not yet gray enough to have seen him play —or better still, played and lost against him in his day), still recognize his name though, but not for his many skillful accomplishments and now long-ago victories at the line. And not because he had become the most feared Cricket player of his time. Nope, they remember him for something altogether different and more lasting than all of that; they remember him because he changed the game of Cricket forever for competitive American players, and he did it not with his darts, but with pen and paper.
In the winter of 1984, our still fledgling magazine (yes, we were once young and, um, good looking, too) published the very first “how-to” Cricket strategy article by Tony Payne. It was entitled Cricket… Play for Keeps! and in it Tony began to share his personal and consistently winning Cricket strategies with our readers and, almost from the start, they couldn’t get enough.
After the success of the first piece, in the spring of 1985, the first follow-up article was then published, but this time under a new banner heading, the one that many of you will surely —if not instantly— recognize. This powerful new title, coined by Tony himself, was simply perfect as it truly embodied the aggressive (dare we say explosive) nature and spirit of the strategies he professed. And so it went, the game theory of Thermonuclear Cricket was born and the competitive game (among serious players anyway) was forever new.
Over the last quarter century Bull’s-Eye News has published hundreds of “how-to” articles, all aimed at improving our readers’ playing skills and competitive advantages. Among them, however, the Thermonuclear Cricket series (there were 31 installments in all, published between 1984 and 1998) stands alone as the only consistent and perennial favorite. In fact, to this day not a month goes by that players don’t contact us seeking back issues containing these articles. Unfortunately, many of those old issues were long ago sold out, in no small measure as the result of – and as testament to – the popularity of Tony’s articles and the worth of the strategies they contained.
Now, with this timeless popularity in mind, and as we approach the 25th anniversary of that first article that started it all, we felt it was high time we revisit (re-launch, if you will) the world of Thermonuclear Cricket. Here, in their entirety, we are proud to bring you those first two articles, word-for-word, just as they appeared in 1984-85. We will also be bringing you additional installments in future issues, as well, perhaps even including the entire series on our new web site, which is now scheduled to debut sometime later this year. (Yes, we’re redesigning that too!)
As you will soon discover, Tony’s advice and gamesmanship are just as relevant today as they were then. After all, the game of Cricket hasn’t changed much since then; it’s still an explosive, emotional and decidedly an unfriendly game (competitively speaking). It’s still a game in which the goal is to devastate your opponent from the start; to destroy his opportunities to advance the game; to, yes, bring him to his proverbial knees at the line. And that, my friends, is the core of Thermonuclear Cricket. That is playing to win. These strategies are timeless; brutal; successful!
In some ways 1984 does seem a very long time ago, indeed. And truth be told, it is long enough ago that I think I have (and sadly so) forgotten a lot more than I care to consider. Fortunately though, Tony Payne and his strategies of Thermonuclear Cricket are not among those memories lost, and neither should they be for you. If you’ve forgotten them yourself, it’s time to remember. If you never knew them to begin with, then it’s time to learn.
One thing I can tell you with absolute certainty; if you’re not winning all the Cricket matches that you believe you should (or could) and you’re not employing these strategies, then my friend you’re already a lot more familiar with Thermonuclear Cricket strategies than you know; because you’re being beaten by them all the time. Perhaps now, it’ll be your turn.
Read on… and throw well!
We recently caught up with Tony by phone for a brief stroll down memory lane. Here are a few highlights from that conversation:
How has the game changed since those early days?
It’s a very different game today. Back then [80s], it was like the wild, wild west. There were only a few dominant players and they were like gun slingers that everyone knew. Players like Danny Valletto, Ricky Ney, Jerry Umberger, Nicky Virachkul, Danny Pucillo, Dave Kelly, Andy Green, Larry Butler, K.C. Mullany, Gerald Verrier and Paul Lim. There were also the boys from back East that didn’t travel as much, but were awesome players like Conrad Daniels, Ray Fisher, Frank Ennis, Joe Baltidonis, Rick Wobensmith, Pete Polinski and few others. Everyone knew them, but no one really knew anyone else.
Today, there are so many more top shooters throughout the country it’s amazing. And everyone knows everyone else. There’s fear in that, but it’s not the same kind of competitive fear that players faced back then against the ‘gun slingers’ of years gone by.
All these years later, 'Thermonuclear Cricket' is still unbelievably popular, how did that all start anyway? I mean, what was the impetus for the articles?
Well, back in the early days I felt I was playing a pretty good game of cricket and I had this little rivalry going with a fellow named Mike Kenny in Cincinnati. I thought I should be winning, but somehow, I kept coming home with more loses than wins. I just kept getting my ears trimmed, and it just didn’t seem possible. So, I sat down and really analyzed my strategy and why it wasn’t working. That’s when I really came up with most of those ideas; I was teaching myself how to play to win.
Any thoughts on the present day or future of our sport?
I’ll be first to admit that the game, the prize money and the television coverage has advanced much further than I ever thought it would. And, as a result, the desire to come out of retirement is ever present. I do miss the sense of accomplishment that comes from winning a championship, but I’m comfortable with what I’ve already accomplished.
So, do you have plans to return to the professional game then?
Well that chapter hasn’t been written yet, right? It is tempting!
Cricket…Play For Keeps! Part 1
By Tony Payne
Like most darters in the States, I love to play Cricket. When I was introduced to darts back in the spring of 1977, it was the first game I learned. The excitement of it, the bone-crushing pressure it created had me hooked.
I give Cricket a lot of credit for the increasing interest in the sport that we see in America. It’s the first game that most of us learn, and that first contact between the potential darter and the sport is crucially important. At this moment, the new shooter’s interest is either held or lost. Cricket proves, immediately, that darts is more than just throwing at the bullseye or trip 20.
Also, Cricket gives the United States an identity in the darting world. The better American shooters can play Cricket as well as, or better than, darters from anywhere else.
Of course, Cricket differs greatly in structure from the ‘01 games. ‘01 is simply a sprint to the double. As a player, I can’t affect how long the game will last. I either throw better than my opponent and beat him to the double, or my opponent throws better than me and beats me to the double.
Now don’t get me wrong – I like the ‘01 games. But I don’t necessarily agree with the rules of battle. ‘01 is a cute little game that by design ensures a quick and less painful death. It’s something that civilized people can enjoy without all that messy business of all-out war.
If I want a head-to-head duel with somebody, I’ll play ‘01. The only problem with dueling is that both players are at the mercy of each other’s marksmanship.
In Cricket, there are no well-defined rules of war. Opponents may choose to stand face to face and duel. Or one or both may opt to seek cover, test the other’s patience, outwit the other guy, plan a sneak attack, or simply produce a point barrage that could send the opponent fleeing in panic, psychologically devastated.
"Cricket is a game of strategy. Between equal players, the one who utilizes superior strategy will consistently win."
Before we go any further, there is one point that must be made plain. There is no amount of strategy or cunning that can beat superior darts. If your opponent is throwing seven marks a turn and you’re throwing five, the outlook is dim indeed. Strategy can be very effective, though, when both players are throwing nearly the same. Let’s take a closer look.
If my Cricket opponent is setting a torrid pace, I can stretch him out by extending the length of the game. This is a luxury you don’t have in ‘01. I can do this by “pointing” a number (scoring points after finishing a pie): at one time or another, he must respond by making up the x amount of points.
Let’s say the opener shoots t20, t19, and t18 on his first three darts. This is a terrible situation for the man shooting second (the opposer) to face. He’s down nine marks and has yet to throw a dart. If opener continues this pace, he will most certainly win the game. The opposer will never be able to regain the cork advantage of the opener if he chooses to close out numbers behind the opener. The opposer’s only hope is that the opener will not continue this pace. If the opposer doesn’t try to extend the length of the game, it will be over before the opener has a chance to “come off the boil.”
The opposer should ignore the t20, t19, t18 threat for now, capture an open number, and point! Point! POINT! The opener should attempt to close his numbers and draw the game to an end by ignoring the points, closing the open numbers, then pointing the opposer at the end of the game with opener’s superior numbers (20, 19, 18).
But if the opener chooses to point the opposer in immediate response to his point threat, and the opposer can keep him pointing by maintaining a sizeable point margin, then two important things are happening. (1) The opposer is extending the length of the game by increasing the number of darts thrown, and (2) The opposer is testing the opener’s patience – possibly to the point of frustration.
As I implied earlier, Cricket is a game of strategy. Between equal players, the one who utilizes superior strategy will consistently win.
The most basic concept of Cricket strategy is what I call “saving darts.” Suppose the opener hit s20, s20, t20. The opposer shoots s20, s20, t20. They both threw five marks, but the scoreboard shows a sizeable difference. (Scoreboard on the left.)
If the opposer had countered with s19, s19, t19, he still wouldn’t have the lead, but he’d be in better shape than by repeating opener’s pattern. By shooting the 19’s, opposer scores two darts and gets the full value of his triple.
Here’s another example. Opener shoots s20, t20, s19. The opposer shoots s19, t19, s19. Now, opener should have known that the opposer would shoot 19’s. Also, given that the players are equally competent, the opener should have known that the opposer would at least close the 19’s. Opener would have been better off if, on the third dart, he had shot 18’s. Looking ahead to his next turn, if he shoots the 18 and trips it, then the triple will count full value. These two abbreviated scoreboards illustrate what a big difference one little mark can make. (Scoreboard on the right.)
The same strategy works later in the game, too. It’s opener’s turn and he shoots t17, s16, s16. Once again, the opposer will shoot the highest available open number (16’s) and close it. Thus, opener’s next shot at the 16 will count as only one mark, regardless of the fact that he already had two marks in that pie! Opposer’s shots at the 16, on the other hand, will count at full value. (Scoreboard on the left.)
Now, you ask, why will opposer shoot the highest available open number? Because the game is half over and he is six marks down. If the game continues at this rate, opener is a certain winner. Opposer needs time, so he creates it by pointing.
What good will pointing do if opener can point opposer on a higher number? If opposer can keep opener pointing, not allowing him to close out numbers, then he may possibly frustrate opener. When frustration sets in, darters tend to work against themselves. Catch him at this point and he’s vulnerable: a good shot may do him in.
"Once a darter masters those physical aspects of the game (stroke, stance, grip, etc.), the game ceases to be physical."
This article describes only one way to improve your Cricket strategy. There are many more, and I’ll get into some in subsequent issues. But remember, strategy can take you only so far. Nothing replaces execution. Here’s a parting thought. “Once a darter masters those physical aspects of the game (stroke, stance, grip, etc.), the game ceases to be physical.”
Cricket…Lessons Learned! - Part 2
By Tony Payne
With every tournament there are usually some lessons to be learned – with some being, more expensive than others. Such was the case when it came to the tournament in Atlantic City.
The addition of a Doubles Cricket event, combined with the likelihood of an English invasion, made the Darts America Tournament too good to be true. As the event approached, my partner John Reichwein and I, were drooling with anticipation. Luck had eluded us in earlier events and we were determined to make this one pay off. The match was announced, and as fate would have it, our opponents were none other than Leighton Rees and Alan Evans.
Like two burglers in the night, we stole the first game. In the second leg we held a lead, but were eventually overpowered. The deciding leg was a see-saw battle with the lead alternating with each exchange of darts. As the match drew to a close, I got the first match-shot opportunity.
Needing three bulls, one for close and two for score, plus three fifteens all for close, I went for it. First dart, double bull, second dart, miss, third dart, miss. The crowd was moaning and groaning. Justifiably so, for you see, I didn’t check the score before I shot.
"Always check the scoreboard before your turn at the line."
Actually needing only two bulls, which I hit on the first dart, I could have had two darts at triple fifteen for the game. Suffice it to say that we didn’t get another shot.
With that “dummy attack” safely tucked away, there was a good lesson to be learned. That is, always check the scoreboard before your turn at the line. Don’t assume that close darts are in or out, let the scorer do this. It’s easy to make mistakes in the heat of battle. You can lower this probability by habitually checking the scoreboard.
As I stated in my last article, Americans are the best Cricket players in the world. The Umberger and Ney duo proved to be too strong for world-ranked finalists John Lowe and Cliff Lazarenko. Hopefully, we’ll see more Cricket events added to our biggies in the future. So much for tales and travels, let’s talk about Cricket.
Have you ever tried to convince a darter that his strategy has faults? Chances are you’ve had the same luck I’ve had. It never ceases to amaze me that all Cricket players believe their strategy is superior to any other. They’ll defend their various options to no end. With this difficult task ahead of me, I can hope that you’ll keep an open mind and hear me out. If not, good luck! I look forward to playing you!
Looking at the structure of the game, it would be safe to assume that Cricket can be a very unfriendly game, to say the least. Especially if one player likes to point, and his opponent is reluctant to point. This pointing business is a never ending source of discussion among darters. Some very personal feeling are attached to those points. And if you don’t believe me, tack an additional 100 points on your opponent before you throw that last bullseye.
Points are the essence of Cricket. They add life to the game. They drag our emotions into play. Points make participants of us all.
There is nothing like the feeling one gets when hitting that big shot in a close hard fought battle. With points and emotions escalating, the game is transformed into a struggle for life itself.
With so much on the line, little wonder it’s high stakes and high anxiety. Winners emerge victorious, heroes once again, eagerly awaiting the next conquest. Losers lower their heads and engulf themselves with shame and embarrasment. They have been beaten – and they know it.
"Those who survive are those who are willing to adapt to the hostile Cricket environment."
With points playing such a critical role, there is a little room for prejudice and Old Wives Tales. It’s survival of the fittest. Those who survive are those who are willing to adapt to the hostile Cricket environment. To increase our adaptability, it is necessary to develop a healthy attitude concerning points. Points have numerous functions. Their primary role is to increase the amount of time in the game. When produced in large volumes they serve as an excellent source of intimidation. And, because some numbers are superior to others, (contain more points than others) it is sometimes to your advantage to point. When these opportunities present themselves, utilize them. You can bet your opponent will. If he sees your reluctance to point, he’ll attack your weakness at every opportunity.
My friends, this is not an exaggeration. I can personally assure you that Cricket players are wandering cutthroats who gather in tournament halls to demonstrate various techniques of skullduggery.
The fact of the matter is, a good percentage of darters refuse to play Cricket in a gentlemanly manner. They take personal delight in watching their opponents come unraveled at the first sign of points. They know how points affect their opponents because they have been there.
"Just because you have a point lead doesn’t necessarily mean that you are ahead."
As I stated earlier, points are an excellent source of intimidation. A T40 opening (close 20 and 80 points) creates what appears to be an insurmountable lead. If your opponent is not up for this match, he’ll quickly wilt under this kind of pressure. Be forewarned about this situation. If you trip that 20 on the first dart, and staying on the 20, fail to trip it with the last two darts, this tends to annoy your opponent more than intimidate him. Suddenly, he is rejuvinated. You have given him reason to play. To point with authority, you must hit some triples.
Bear in mind that no strategist is infallible. I have not met anyone who knows everything to be known about the game. Much less anyone who could prove it. To plan effective strategy, it is necessary to monitor your position at all times during the game. Now this is tricky business. Just because you have a point lead doesn’t necessarily mean that you are ahead. To find out, compare your scoreboard to your opponents. Determine the score difference. Convert that margin into marks. When determining the mark difference in score, check the highest available number that you can point. If you are 60 points behind and 17’s are your highest available number then you are 4 marks behind. If 15’s are the highest available number then you’re 5 marks behind. (It’s the number of marks to overtake the point deficiency.) Check the close out difference and convert that margin into marks. The closeout difference is easier to calculate into marks because it takes three marks to close all numbers. Add all marks in score and close out, as shown below:
Opener has 4 marks in score, and 9 marks in close out.
4 – Marks in score
9 – Marks in close out
Opposer has no marks in score, but he has 13 marks in close out.
0 – Marks in score
13 – Marks in close out
Both players have 13 marks for a dead even game. The advantage would go to the player that shoots next.
Here is a short cut method. Numbers that are close by both players are nullified as shown below.
Opener: 4 – Marks in score
0 – Marks in close out
Opposer: 0 – Marks in score
4 – Marks in close out
If opener thought he held a lead, he would be mistaken. With the game half over, neither opponent can afford a mistake in judgement.
If I were opener and I had first shot in this situation, I’d go for 16’s. The obvious shot is 17’s. Both have merit. But, by shooting 16’s, all my darts will count. By closing and scoring on 16’s, I’ve reduced another option the opposer can use on the opener. I believe the best defense is a good offense.
"Darters that describe the game of Cricket as slop, obviously have not played 301 or 501."
Before I close, I’d like to make a comment on the term “Slop Cricket.” Darters that describe the game of Cricket as slop, obviously have not played 301 or 501. All misses are counted in those games – anyone up for a game of “Slop 501?”