Anne Kramer Looks Back to the Heyday of USA Darts

Where have the days gone? The days where you could attend a tournament anywhere in the USA, win the singles event, and are given a huge trophy. Not to mention, a huge cheque to go with it!

If you were a male, you could win the Men’s Singles event at a $10k tournament and get a fat $1,000.00  cheque along with that huge trophy.

It was like that at tournaments all over the USA and a pre-requisite that your open singles event paid first place at least 10% of your total tournament payout for the win. Back then; a player could make a living with these winnings.

Gone also are the days of playing on a stage where you had anywhere from 400-600 people cheering you on. To those that play and do not know the history of darts in America, here is a small history lesson for you regarding the North American Open first created by the Southern California Darts Association.

The tournament began in 1970 at $2000, with 252 players in attendance, and 4 States and 1 Nation represented, and ended in 1999 at $45000, with 2020 players in attendance and 48 States and 14 Nations represented.

While these numbers may pale in comparison to the events held in England these days, this event was by far, the premier event in North America for 30 years. It was so big, even the top English players attended it for many years. In the earlier days, the winners of the singles events were given fully paid trips to the World Masters. In later days, they were only extended invites to the World Masters, but had to pay their own expenses to get there. People were excited to go there and have the chance of seeing and playing some of the best players in the world.

I was 16 when I went to my first NAODT in 1982. It was the most sensational event ever and everyone stayed to sit in the crowd and watch the staged finals on Sunday. The place was packed until it was all over. Everyone wanted to see who the next champion would be. Some that were there were the ones you expected to see on that stage, and some were not. That was what made the event all the more fun. You never knew whom you were going to get drawn against.

Some of the most notable winners were as follows:

These were the golden days of darts in America. Where a young, relatively unknown player could end up in the final against the number one player in the world, win a singles title, and be catapulted into the top16 of the world rankings. That same player would also get a fully paid trip to England from the tournament sponsor, earn enough points from winning this event to be ranked high enough in the world rankings to then be seeded into the World Masters, invited to the World Professionals, invited to the Grand Masters, and then spend two months in England touring with many of the other top players.

That’s the stuff dreams are made of, and things that are no longer seen in the events in America today. Yes, there are invites to the World Masters for some event winners in America, but never are any of these players seeded into the top 16 of the event, and only the US team members get their trip paid for by the American Darts Organization. However, even those US team members are not seeded into the top 16.

For many tournaments in the 1980’s, you could meet many of the top players in the world. Players like Leighton Rees, Bobby George, Jocky Wilson, Eric Bristow, John Lowe, Bob Anderson, Mike Gregory, Keith Dellar, Stefan Lord, Cliff Lazarenko, and so many more that would make the trip over for a few weeks and play in the Los Angeles Open, move on inland a little bit the next weekend and play at the Marquis Lounge where Dennis Hassett always had an exhibition with Eric Bristow, then the following weekend all would head to Las Vegas for the North American Open.

It was a classic time where so many players all over the USA would attend these events to see these players and plop down their entry fee for the singles events in the chance that they may get to play one of them. The players back then never said, “I don’t want to pay to play in the singles, I’ll just end up getting drawn against Eric, John, Bob, etc.” They wanted to play against them! They wanted the chance to prove themselves as players.

Players of today never really understand the history of the game or the names of the old timers that are now the legends of today, whether they are still here with us or at the great dart tournament in the sky. I know when I first started playing, one of the first things I did was go to the library and get books about darts. Back then, there were not that many, but I learned the game and the names that went along with it.

Nowadays, with the Internet, there are so many more avenues in which new players could research the legends and learn the history. I often wonder if they really do. We old timers sit around at events and talk about the old days and the old names and the youngsters don’t know whom we are talking about.

As a dart player, how can you not know that Pennsylvania’s own, Rick Ney reached the final of the prestigious News of the World Darts Championship in 1986 losing to Bobby George. He made four appearances in the World Professional Darts Championship – with his best result coming in 1988 when he lost to Bob Anderson in the semi-finals. He became only the third player from outside the United Kingdom to reach the last four of the World Championship in the ten-year history of the tournament.

Who knows that there was an American World Cup team that beat team England 9-0 in the semi-finals of the team event and then went on to win the gold medal? That Conrad Daniels was the first American to win a televised event in England with his win of the men’s event on the Indoor League show broadcast by Yorkshire Television.  That Dan Pucillo would stand at the 8’ line even after the distance was changed to 7’9” because he spent so many years throwing from 8’.

Do they know that the highest America finisher in the singles at the Los Angeles Open would also win a trip to compete at the British Open paid for by the tournament sponsor? That the winner of the West Coast Pentathlon would get a trip to compete in the British Pentathlon, and that the winner of the US Open would get a trip to compete in the News of the World?

Going back to my reading books on darts story I started earlier. One of those books I read told of a player out of New York named Nicky Virachkul.  Such an unusual name, so it was easy to remember. My first North American Open in 1982, I watched him win the singles title. It was great to be able to put the name from the book to a face on the stage. I was a fan cheering him on because of it. Little did I know that later on in life, I would learn that my husband today, had lost to Nicky at top 4, and was so very close to being on that stage for the second year in a row.

But the story does continue. I would meet Nicky at a tournament a couple of years later and as luck would have it, he needed a mixed doubles partner and I was lucky enough to be able to shoot with him. Of course, this is where knowing your history does not come in handy! I was so nervous I couldn’t throw darts worth a darn and we eventually lost. But regardless, the memory has outlasted all that and is still a fond one to this day.

I am also happy to say that we did pair up again and I did redeem myself and play much better, since by then, he was less of an enigma and more of just our friend. Some of Nicky’s more notable accomplishments were reaching the semi-finals of the Winmau World Masters in 1980, semi-finals of the 1978 Embassy World Darts Championship, and the Open Singles title of the 1979 WDF World Cup darts tournament.

Regrettably, many of the stories and many of the names have disappeared from the conversations, as many are gone and forgotten. Sadly, most of the big events that showcased these named have gone by the wayside as well, along with their sponsors. A lot of the players today say that darts is growing again in America. All us old timers can do is laugh and remember the good old days and remind them that when they start getting 400-700 entries in the open singles events again…to give us a call.

Find out more about Anne Kramer on her website - sleepykramer.com

4 Responses

  1. Julie Nicoll-Jennings

    Anne, great job on this article. it brings back lots of memories. Did you know that I was the first teenager to win the North American at the age of 17, in 1975. Kathy Karpowich won her first North American at 16. Ricky Ney was not much older than Kathy and I when he was winning. Their were no youth programs when we were playing in the seventies.

  2. Adam 'Thorn' Smith

    I truly enjoy reading your historical articles AK! Your writing exudes enthusiasm for the sport and I love that. Your words are often the best way for me to learn more about the days I missed.

  3. Stacy Bromberg

    If you want a quick example of ‘Payouts Gone Wild’ just compare this year’s USA Darts Classic payouts with those being feed at he upcoming Cameilla Classic in Feb 2013. And THERE is your answer to the problem! DON’T keep paying players for showing up at a tournament – the way ADO points seem to be awarded. Just my opinion…..good read, Anne!

  4. Gary Farkas

    Andrea. Great article. My family started the Cleveland Daryer Club in 1969. I remember as a kid watching all kinds of tournaments. The Extravaganza was huge and the payouts were great. Nowadays tbere are too many clicks within leagues and sportsmanship has been long gone. I yearn for the eRly days in 70’s and 80’s

    Gary Farkas.
    CDC #1701