ANYTHING YOU CAN DO, I CAN DO BETTER
Comparing the standard of play in the BDO and PDC – statistically and stylistically
No darts personality enjoys making note of the difference between the PDC and BDO standards of play more than does Eric Bristow. Remarking on a first-round game between Scott Waites and Dennis Harbour at Lakeside, Bristow tweeted “how bad is this”, referring to the players near-90 averages through four sets, and quipped “Tell you one thing about the BDO darts, their dartboards look good”.
The Crafty Cockney is certainly impolitic, but is he correct? Is the quality of the darts in the PDC substantially better than that of the men’s circuit in the BDO? Casual comparison of the averages aside, this is a question for which statistics can provide an answer. And luckily for us, two darts world championships have just concluded, featuring the whole spectrum of players in both organizations, from which we can draw the relevant data.
The statistic which most obviously points to the PDC’s higher quality is the number of legs won in 12 darts or less. The contestants needed only four visits to win 203 of the 1,383 (14.7%) legs played at the PDC World Championship, a proportion more than twice as large as the BDO’s 50 out of 838 (6.0%). Similarly, a maximum score of 180 was thrown once every two legs in London, while at Frimley Green the players needed three legs to completely fill up the treble 20. BDO players threw more legs of 19+ darts, moreover, than did their PDC counterparts even though 60% more legs were contested at Ally Pally overall.
To evaluate the quality of setup play and finishing, we can look at the percentage of ton-plus checkouts successfully achieved in three darts. There were 82 such finishes out of 993 (8.3%) attempted at Lakeside; while at the Ally Pally the players converted 172 out of 1,548 (11.1%) attempts. Though this is not an enormous difference, consider that even if we remove the top-ranked 6 PDC players (MvG, Anderson, Lewis, Taylor, Wright and Wade) from consideration, the PDC ton-plus checkout percentage only declines to 10%.
On the most frequently attempted finish of them all, 40 (three darts at tops), the PDC advantage is somewhat clearer. PDC players at their World Championship checked out from 40 with three darts or less 171 out of 232 (73.7%) times the finish was attempted, while the BDO boys did so on 104 out of 155 (67.1%) occasions. While the difference is not enormous, it is statistically significant. We can be very confident that over the span of an infinite number of legs, the BDO players would have less success with 3 darts at a double than would their PDC counterparts.
Thus we can conclude that in the PDC you are – be it slightly or substantially – more likely than you are at a BDO match to see the events and achievements that make darts exciting; the 180s, the big checkouts, the attempts at the elusive 9-darter. For years that difference had been conjectured to be attributable to the small segment sizes on the Winmau Blade 4 board used by the BDO, but the wider trebles on the Blade 5 board used at this year’s World Championship did not suffice to equalize the two groups of players’ statistics.
But that hardly makes the proceedings at Lakeside not worth watching. The BDO is looked on by some as a development league for the PDC, and that is unfair. It isn’t as though you won’t see a 164 finish to force a sudden death leg (courtesy of BDO World #29 Ryan Joyce), or a ten-darter (also courtesy of Joyce) in Frimley Green. The differences between the organizations are primarily stylistic. The PDC World Championship is a raging three-week tungsten fest, the BDO’s event will always have a substantial appeal to those who like a more respectful, reserved atmosphere. Many top PDC players got their start at Lakeside, true, but it has long been the domain of top darts players in their own right (especially Adams, Fitton, Waites and O’Shea, to name just a few) who have remained loyal to the historic organization. What the BDO does not have, and will probably never again have, is a superstar of the calibre of Michael van Gerwen or Phil Taylor – the appeal of extra prize money and TV coverage in the PDC is too strong a lure for players of such stature. In the Lakeside competitors, however, many spectators will be able to see a bit more of themselves than in the PDC’s titans – working class chaps with a solid throw and the will to win. This was the tournament that first lured players back to their dartboards, after all, with the hope that they, too, might have a go at becoming World Champion.