If you’re learning to play darts, an essential game you’ll also need to learn is 501 darts. X01 darts are a category of games (101, 301, 501, 801, 1001) that are arguably the most played and most popular in darts.
Why play 501 darts? If you want to join a league, tournament, or even turn professional then you will likely be playing 501 darts. While cricket and around the clock darts have leagues/tournaments too, 501 darts are globally accepted as the standard game.
Therefore, if you don’t know how to play 501 darts, it’s time you learn the game! In this article, I’ll go through the rules, scoring, and explain how to play 501 darts but you’ll also get some tips to become a better player and win more games.
Number of Players
1 – 2 players
501 is typically played with either 2 players, or two separate teams with multiple players.
501 Darts Rules and Scoring
For the game of 501 Darts, the scoring is right in the name. Both players/teams will be given 501 points to start off with.
As they play each round, the goal is to score high. All the points they score will be taken off the 501 scores. The first team to “checkout” leaving no points wins.
Players will take alternating turns with 3 darts each. Every 3 darts will reduce the player’s score until they are left with a finish – which is a score of 170 or less.
You can’t just reduce your score to 0 to win. To win a game of 501 darts you need to checkout which means hitting a double or bullseye. For example – you have 40 points remaining, if you hit double 20 (worth 40 points) you win, two single 20s will not count and will result in a bust.
To see a list of possible numbers you can checkout on, see this checkout list here
501 Darts Objective
The objective of 501 darts is to reduce your score (starting at 501) with each throw. A higher score will reduce your total faster. To win the game you need to checkout on a double or the bullseye.
How to Play 501 Darts
501 Darts is the most common dart game played. Use the following rules when you want to play a round of this popular game:
- Split the players up into two separate teams, and assign someone as the scorekeeper.
- Players will throw a dart to determine which team or individual goes first. Whoever gets their darts closest to or on the bullseye will go first.
- Once a dart lands on a double, that team can begin subtracting points from their 501 scores. The same rule applies to the second team (player 2) when it’s their turn.
- From here, each team will take turns. When a player is throwing darts, their goal is to score as high as possible. They will likely be aiming for higher numbers and hoping to land on doubles and trebles to maximize their points.
- Once the points are getting to the lower side, players will have to double out. Each player will be aiming at the particular double they need to get to zero points. Any other number they land on will not count as a win but can still be subtracted from their score.
- The first team that reaches zero points will win.
501 Darts Example Game
For a better understanding of the game of 501 Darts, check out the example below:
- Two individuals are playing a match against each other. Player A hit the bullseye, so they will go first.
- Player A has 3 darts. This player throws a treble 20 and two single 18s. In this round, they scored 96 points, which brings the score down to 405.
- Player B throws towards the bottom of the board and hits a treble 19 and two single 19s. This player scored 95 points, bringing their score down to 406.
- Player A steps up to play. They land a single 13, double 15, and double 20. They scored 83 points, bringing the score down to 322.
- Player B throws their darts and lands a treble 12, single 20, and single 18. They scored 74 points, which puts their score at 332.
- Player A throws. They land a single 20, treble 20, and treble 19. This gives them 137 points, which puts their score at 185.
- Player B throws. They land a single 16, treble 18, and double 20. This gives them 110 points and puts their score at 222.
- Player A now throws their darts. They land a double 14, double 18, and treble 19. They scored 121, giving them a score of 64.
- Player B throws their darts. They land treble 16, double 16, and double 19. In this round, they scored 118. They now have a score of 104.
- Player A has 64 points, so if they play this round right, they could finish the game. The first dart lands on a single 18, bringing the score down to 46. The next dart lands on double 12, giving them a score of 22. They will need to land their next dart on the double 11 to win, but they land on the single 11 so miss a chance to win and now have an uneven score of 11 remainings (important because you can’t finish 11 with just 1 dart) .
- Players B throws and lands their first two darts on double 18 and double 20. This puts their score down to 28. Their final dart lands on the double 14, giving them 28 points and putting their final score to zero. Player B wins the game.
501 Darts Variations
For X01 games, the variations are the starting number – like 501. In 501 darts specifically, though, there are steps you can take to add some variety into the game.
Double in – Double in means that a player needs to hit the double to start with before they can subtract from their score.
For example, player A hits single 20, single 20, single 5. As no double was hit, their score remains at 501.
Player B hits double 20, single 20, treble 20. As they hit a double this now counts towards their score. The total score of 120 is now subtracted from their score leaving 381 points.
Note, only darts thrown after the double will count towards your score. If you hit a double with your second dart, the first will not count towards your score.
You only double in at the start as well, once you hit a double continue to play 501 following the standard rules.
No Double Out – For beginners, a good variation to use is a no double out rule. This means that a player left with a score of 20 will only need to hit a single 20 (or combination of a score totaling 20) to win the game rather than needing to hit a double 10 to checkout.
Most beginners can easily get frustrated trying to check out on a double when they don’t yet have the accuracy or aim to hit the double they are aiming for.
Therefore, removing the double-out aspect will significantly speed up games and more importantly, make them more fun!
501 Darts Tips & Strategies
501 darts is a very straightforward game. The aim is to score as many points as you can to reduce your score faster than the opponent and then hit a double to win the game. I know it sounds more simple than it is but 501 is mainly made up of two components:
- Score high with each throw
- Finish the double quicker than your opponent
If you lack either one of these aspects, you’ll lose more games than you can win.
Get Experience in Pressure Games
Everyone focuses on the scoring aspect in 501 darts and for good reason, getting down to a finish quicker than your opponent reduces pressure and gives you a statistically better probability of going on to win the game – both mathematically and psychologically.
The second part though is of course having the mental nerve, accuracy, and composure to check out and win the game. When the pressure is on a finish, a lot of players don’t have the composure to hit the required double.
Nerves can take over and some players are just not practiced enough to close out a game. My first tip would therefore be to game match experience and feel the pressure of these game-winning moments. The sooner you get this experience, the easier it will be to practice and overcome it.
You don’t necessarily need to go and enter a tournament (though this will help), but just get match experience against other players so that you can feel the pressure of game-winning shots. This is almost impossible to replicate when playing solo.
Learn Darts Math
Next, learn dart math. I cover this in more detail in a beginner article on “how to get better at darts” but the basic idea is that every time you stop to calculate how many points you have remaining, you ultimately lose your consistency of throw.
Darts is a game of repeating the same shot over and over again for the most part. Anytime you need to stop will result in you losing this natural throw and ultimately, your accuracy will decrease with the next dart.
You don’t need to master multiplication but don’t rely on an electronic scoreboard.
Players that have a reliance on a scoreboard working out their score will be much less decisive and focused on their throw. Just start by learning your most commonly hit shots.
If you always throw for treble 20, chances are you will get a combination of 20, 1, or 5. For a 501 game, this means you’ll typically have a number ending in 1, 0, 6, or 5. As an example, I threw my first two darts and hit single 5 and single 20.
I know that subtracting 5 will leave my last digit as a 6 (501 – 5), I don’t think about the actual sum, I just know it will end in 6. Then subtracting the 20 will still leave the end number as a 6. I, therefore, memorize shots rather than trying to do the math, which is a lot harder.
A common starting shot will be 45 for beginners that are getting better so just remember that if you hit this on your first shot, you have 456 remaining.
This is easier said in theory but the less you rely on a scoreboard, the more you’ll remember the shots and learn the combinations.
Professional dart players are good at math to an extent but the main reason they are so fast at calculating scores is that they remember them rather than working it out on the spot.
This is boring advice but the only real way to get better at 501 darts and gain an edge on your opponent is to practice. Unlike other sports, what your opponent does cannot directly impact you or your game.
Sure, there is a psychological aspect but whether your opponent scores 3 or 180, it’s still completely independent of what you do. Therefore, your scores will depend entirely on your own ability to throw with accuracy and consistency.
There are some things you can do to improve these marginally but learning the motor skills to get good at darts requires practice and repetition. We have a number of practice games on this site and will continue to add more so make sure you check them out and get started.
With enough practice, this could be you one day:
501 darts are the most popular dart game on the planet. Whether you play for fun or competitively, this is a game you’ll either learn quickly or be asked to play at some point.
I’d say it’s not what you’d class as a “fun” game, it can definitely get quite competitive but if you want to replicate some of the shots you see on TV, you’ll need to play 501 darts to do so!