How to Play Darts 501

How to Play Darts 501

“501” is the most common game played in professional darts. It is easy to play and understand, but to play it at a higher level may take time to master.

Darts 501 Rules:

  • Each player will begin on a score of 501.
  • To finish you must hit a double
  • To finish your score must end on exactly zero.
  • In this version of the game the “Bullseye” will be split into two segments (known in The Netherlands as “Semi-Bullseye” and “Double Bullseye”. It’s also called “25” and “Bullseye” in the rest of the world)
  • A semi-bullseye/25 will score 25 points.
  • A bullseye shall score fifty points and if a player has fifty remaining the segment shall also class as a double

Darts 501 Scoring:

Scoring in 501 is easy, and it’s nearly identical to 301 darts scoring. Both players will begin on 501 and will alternate in throwing three darts at the dartboard. The total of whatever is scored is subtracted from the players’ overall score. The aim is to be the first player to reach exactly zero finishing on a double.

Note: Some versions of this game require you to start on a double. This will be clearly marked as either “Master In” or “Double In” both have the same meaning. However, this being played in a professional sense is rare. Only one tournament in the PDC calendar uses this rule (Grand Prix Darts). It uses this rule as a play on the name of the city the tournament it is usually held in “Dublin”.

501 Strategy:

Darts is a game that requires a lot of strategy these can be split into two categories “Mental Strategy” and “Game Strategy”.

Mental Strategy

Mental strategy is a controversial strategy within the game. It requires you playing small mind games with your opponent in order to put them off. Sometimes this is less subtle for instance Gerwyn Price and Michael van Gerwen screaming after hitting a huge score.

A more subtle time this has been used is in the example of the sixteen-time world champion Phil Taylor. It has been alleged that Taylor used to move his opponent’s darts cases to the other side of the table to throw them off before and during the game.

These are used in the professional game and some class this as gamesmanship. However, if you are playing a game with your family it may be unrealistic to begin screaming at them. If you are an amateur, you opponent may not be capable of taking a big shot anyway. So, in this case you can go down a strategy that can only be described as the “Eric Bristow Strategy” named after the late-great five-time world champion and his strategy was simple. Convince your opponent they cannot win.

Eric used the Muhammed Ali approach in darts. He trash talked everyone he encountered. Eric had been known to approach his opponents before game and ask questions such as “What time is your taxi picking you up?”. In a memorable occasion referring to his defeated opponent as “The Number Two of the Future”. He used his mouth to convince everyone he was unbeatable. Some players despised this, but it is a strategy that can work.

Game Strategy

This strategy is to ensure you are always in the best game position you can be. Much like in chess you can not just go blindly into the game and expect to win. You need to think ahead and put yourself in a winning position. This is done throughout the three game stages, opening, mid-leg, finishing.


Opening the leg is important. If you opponent opens with a 100 score and you only follow with 26 that puts your opponent at an immediate advantage.

A big error in the opening is that players feel they need to stay on the twenties segment as it scores the most. However, this is not true. What is true however is that if you switch it shouldn’t be to the 19 segment. While this may feel natural to score the highest it doesn’t put you in the greatest game position, you should switch to the seventeen segment. This, provided you hit it, will either leave you on a score ending in 4 or 0. This is a better set-up position later in the game than if you are left on 442 for example. After scoring 59 this can put you in a late game situation where you are on a score like 162 as opposed to 164.

Mid-leg/Scoring Phase

During this phase you should be thinking about the optimal way to setup the best position in the finishing phase of the leg. Below I have outlined some of the essentials to remember.

  • If you are on 302 and stay on twenties a 140 will not leave you a finish. However, if you switch to the eighteens on your last dart and score 138 you will leave 164. From 164 you can finish the game. It’s all about leaving yourself in the best position not always scoring the most you can.

  • You should learn positions which require a certain target. For example, if you are on 265 you need to start on the 19 segments. This is learned over time, but it is good practice to investigate and learn these positions.


The most important part of the game is the finishing. It does not matter how much you score if you cannot finish. I recommend spending about 75% of your time practicing darts on doubles. It’s also good to spend a portion of time learning the checkouts. A printable checkout table works fine for this at the start.

As you play the game you will learn that you favour certain doubles. So, it is also good practice once you learn which doubles you like so you can leave them more often.

If you like double 20 and you are on 80 then you can stay on the twenty segments however if you hate double twenty and you are on 80 you can always look at the 16’s route to leave either double sixteen or the bullseye.

Final Thoughts on 501

Darts 501 is the game for professional players. With that being said it might be a bit tough for beginners to pick up quickly. An easier game for beginners would be something like around the board. Either way this popular game is certainly worth learning and can be lots of fun.