How To Play 501 Darts (A Detailed Guide)

How To Play 501 Darts

If you have ever watched a professional darts match on TV, chances are they were playing a game of 501 darts. It is the most common dart game played around the world a will likely be the first game you come across when learning how to play darts.

Of all the games that can be played with darts, 501 is the most popular. You will find it being played in every home, pub, league, and any establishment with organized play.

You will need to learn it well. But that’s ok because it is a fun and easy game to play one-on-one, with teams, or even just alone.

In this guide, we will discuss the basic rules of the game in detail and cover some tips and strategies that will help beginners.

Before we jump in, it is important to note that just about every dart game does have variations. These 501 darts rules outline the most popular forms you will find being played.

What Are The Rules For 501 Darts?

To play 501 darts the rules are simple, both players or teams start with a score of 501 points. Each player then takes alternating turns at throwing their darts at the dartboard. The points scored are removed from the total, and then the opposing player/team does the same. The first to reach zero wins the game.

However before you can start subtracting from your score, you must double-in, and to complete the game you must double-out (both will be explained below). This adds a bit more skill to the game as well as strategy when it comes to planning a finish.

Usually, a coin is tossed to determine the starting order. Alternatively, you can each throw a dart at the board and whoever has the closest dart to the bullseye starts first.

Doubling in

Before you can start scoring, you have to first land a dart in one of the double sections around the outer ring of the board. This is called “doubling in.”

Any dart you throw before you double-in does not count towards your progress. You can also double-in on the bullseye as this spot is considered to be a double as well.

When doubling in, the double 20 or the bullseye are the two most desirable targets as they are worth the most points (40 and 50). If you are playing with teams, only one member of your team needs to double-in.

Once a player on the team has doubled-in, scoring begins. That dart and all following darts from all players on the team count to reduce the score.

Getting Your Score Down in 501

Once you have doubled-in, the object is to score as many points per round as possible. This is generally done by shooting for the triple 20 as it is the highest-scoring target on the dartboard.

Three darts in the triple 20 scores you 180 points, which is the highest that can be obtained in one round. There are sometimes when you may want to shoot your dart for another target.

If one of your darts is blocking the triple 20, you may want to aim for the triple 19 instead, for a cleaner shot. You may also start shooting for other targets when your score is getting low enough to finish, and you want to set up your double-out.

How Do You Win 501 Darts?

To win the game, you have to double-out the same way you doubled-in. Doubling-out, however, can be a bit trickier.

When doubling-in, you are free to hit any double target on the board to get things started. When doubling out, you need to hit a double that will land you precisely on zero points to win the game.

It is essential that you do not hit more points than what you have remaining, this will result in a bust, and your turn will be over. The center bull is the highest target you can double-out on, being worth 50 points. After that would be the double 20 with is worth 40 points.

Scoring 501 Darts

One person is usually assigned to do the scoring in 501 darts. This person is known as the marker or chalker. The scoreboard will be divided with a line down that middle and each team’s score will be calculated on their respective side.

After 3 darts have been thrown, the marker will add up the total of the darts on the board and deduct it from the running total on the chalkboard.

The marker should keep full attention and they should know how to how to play darts well. Besides scoring the darts, it is their job to know everything that is happening in the game, including knowing what number has been hit, how much is left, and keeping track of whose turn it is.

501 Darts Variations

There are a few slight rule variations to the basic game that may be different depending on where and with who you are playing.

The most popular variation to the rules is the option to double-in. In a professional darts game, you do not need to double-in before you start subtracting from your score.

This is done to speed up the pace and action of the game. If you watch darts on TV, you will notice each round starts with the players immediately scoring as many points as possible.

If you have uneven teams, it is standard practice to play with a dummy (fake) player into the games rotation. This dummy player would have a predetermined fixed score each round dependant on the skill levels of the other players and that score will be deducted from the running total when it is the dummies “turn.”

501 Darts Tips

  • For newer players, doubling in on the sides is recommended (11 or 6) If you overthrow or your dart drops, there is a good chance it will hit the double directly above or below.
  • If you are entirely new to darts and having a hard time hitting anything you aim for, try going for the triple 14. 11, 9, 12, 8 are all around here and can add up much quicker than landing 3 darts in the 1 while aiming for the 20.
  • When you are getting ready to double-out, it’s always good to plan ahead. 32 is the magic number. If you single 16, you are left with double 8 which is right next door. Hit the single 8 and you have double 4 left and so on, right down to double 1. Of course, this strategy is not always required. A different option would be double 20, 10, 5.
  • If you need to double-out and are stuck on an odd number aim for the bottom of the board (7, 19, 3, 17). As long as you don’t bust, this should bring you back to an even number.
  • Volunteer to do the scoring. Basic mathematics will give you a good jump start on the game. As you get better, you learn the standard checkouts. Planning ahead and setting up your darts starts to change the way you play the game.

Official 501 Darts Rule Books

If you are looking for a full list of 501 darts rules that apply to professional darts, the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) uses the Darts Regulation Authority Rule Book as a guide.

I should warn you though, the rules outlined there cover every little detail of the game and it may be more information than you are looking for.

Still, it can be an interesting read for fans of the sport. Here are some interesting highlights I pulled:

  • From section 5.2 (Rules regarding Throwing) 5.2.2: All darts must be deliberately thrown in an over arm fashion, one at a time, by and from the Player’s hand.
  • Section 5.17 (Rules regarding Playing Attire) 5.17.1: Players are not permitted to wear jeans: neither shall they wear trousers or skirts made with denim or corduroy material which have been fashioned in a “jeans style”.
  • Section 5.18 (Rules regarding Alcohol) 5.18.1: No alcoholic drinks shall be consumed or taken outside the designated practice area by any Player or Official whilst engaged in any Darts Event.

As you can see, the “official” rules of play may vary greatly from the rules enforced by your local pub or league. But remember, you do not play in the PDC. So while there is an official rule book for darts, house rules supersede anything you read there.

It is also worth noting, that while most dart games you see on TV will be PDC, the British Darts Organisation (BDO) has their own rules of play as well which do differ slightly from PDC rules. The “British Darts Organisation Playing Rule And Tournament Rules” can be found here.

Have any tips for your fellow darters? We’d like to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

18 Comments

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  1. I am still confused because i can have say 41 points left I will hit 40 with 2 darts and i bust…why? the game does not double in or out. the opponent will have 40 points left he hits 40 and wins! also what exactly is a leg?

    • Hi Rose,
      Depending on where you play 501, they may not always use the double in rule, but the double out rule is used almost universally. Because 1 is the lowest target on the board, the lowest double is double 1 (with a value of 2 points). There for if you have 41 left and you throw a 40, you are left with 1 point and there is no double on the board that will give you a value of 1, and it is a bust.

      If I am understanding your question correctly, you are playing with no double out? If so, a 40 would not be a bust with 41 points left.

      A leg is basically 1 game of 501 from start to finish. In professional darts, you have to win several legs to win the round (set).
      Think of it as like you were playing best 2 of 3. If you win 1 game, you won 1 “leg”, but you need to win 2 “legs” (2 of 3) to win the “set”.
      The term is not used as much in casual game play where a tally of overall games won is not being kept. Look for my upcoming article on understanding the rules of professional darts soon.

    • your points left is 41, right? so taking a score of 40 at 2nd pin you throw means you only have 1 point left and 1 pin left to throw. you are bust because there is no double you can do with the 1 point left, which should be 0.5, right? well you wont be bust if you still have 2 points left which is the lowest point you can have because double 1 is the last resort 🙂

  2. Why is it so difficult to get the point (personal/achievement) system for *01 games?

    Ton =
    1T80=

    Turkey=

    I’ve literally looked all over for some guidance and came up blank.

    • Hi Brian, Not sure what you mean. Are you looking for a glossary of terms? or is there some secret scorecard out there I don’t know about?

    • If I understand this question correctly, this may offer an explanation:

      T= Ton = 100* pointsin darts (* it makes no difference what combination of #s as long as they add up to 100)
      1T80 = 1T (100) & 80 (e.g. quick shorthand for scoring /reference purposes).

  3. how do you count the score when you have two teams…. one with four players and one with three players. We are new at this but it seems unfair to have the points for four players against three without some sort of handicap.

    • If you are playing 501 with teams and have an odd number of players, it is customary to add a “dummy” player to the team that is short. So you write the 4 names down for the first team and the 3 names for the second team with the word dummy after the last players name

      Now every time is comes around to the dummy’s turn you deduct a predetermined score. Usually 25, 50, or 75 points depending on the skill level of the other players.

      You skip the dummy’s turn while trying to double in, so it only comes into play once one of that players on that team has hit a double.

      In my league the dummy is also out of the game once the score for that team gets below 50 points. You then cycle through the 3 players while the other team cycles through their 4. Rotation can get a little tricky after that but as long as you pay attention to who you play after on your own team you should be good to go.

  4. Hi,
    I’ve played a casual games of darts before but never went with points.
    I need to solve a puzzle that involves darts – 501 rules. I have #s on the left and right side of the board and need to figure out a 7 digit #. Are you able to help me out please?
    Thanks!

    • Hi Isabelle, I’m sorry. I am not sure I understand the question.

  5. We installed a halo light around are board not long ago and we have had a dart bounce off the light and into the board so should that dart still count?

    • Surprisingly I can not find any rules regarding outside interference of a throw (intentional or otherwise). I would have to say as long as it is in the dartboard it is good.

  6. Hi, I have a question so ending on a double out I’m not sure on the rules so for example I am trying to double out on 40 so double 20 and hit a single 20 so then go on to a double 10 but hit the double 15 that’s a bust but does my 1sr dart in the single 20 count or do i got back to needing 40 thanks in advance

    • When you bust in a round your score goes back to your starting score for that round. So in your example the score would go back to 40 for the next round.

  7. I have a question
    If you shooting for a double one and you get it in the double one but you think its out and you throw another dart and get a single one. Would that be a bust?

  8. Does the dart count if for some unknown reason your flight comes out and sticks in stem first?

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