Darts Fans: Greg Heim

Darts Fans is a treasured dartsweb feature of mine, and when I came across Greg Heim – @Thehammerwields on Twitter – it was clear that he was the perfect next guest. Where did a love of darts begin for Greg? “Through insomnia, essentially. I couldn’t sleep one night and was channel surfing, and the PDC World Championship appeared. It was a recap of a match between Phil Taylor and Simon Whitlock and I just sort of said to myself, “What the bleep! This is darts?” I was fascinated by the costumes, crowd and huge pitchers of beer. I also heard a 180 call and was confused as to why they weren’t going for the bull, a typical American observation! Then it was a process of figuring out the game – I grasped that each player had 501 points, but it was only a day or two later that I understood how each leg had to be finished. At that point, the mathematician in me lit up like a Christmas tree.”

Our guest is a lifelong sports fan, following a range of interests such as baseball, basketball and American football. Upon discovering it, darts was soon to join these sports as one of Greg’s key interests. “At the time,” Greg explained, “the North American teams I follow weren’t doing too well, and that certainly had something to do with it. I would also say that the more I understood the sport and learnt about the history, which I feel is an obligatory component, I just took to it. The other thing is, now that I am a father of three, my ability to stay up late at night is poor, so being able to watch it early on in the day and then being able to go to bed was a big help. John Part was also important – because he is Canadian, I didn’t have to cut through the UK slang and references, which made it easier to understand the sport from that perspective.”

He also added, “The evolution of the sport through time really interested me too. The movement from smoke-filled rooms to incredulous stages and the massive increases of money all fascinated me. The charismatic nature of the players, or lack thereof, produced this perfect blend of everything and I really stuck to it.”

Heim recalls many highlights from viewing the sport through the years. “The first big highlight I had was the Adrian Lewis and Phil Taylor Grand Slam match, with 32 180s. That was extraordinary. And for me also the late greats Sid Waddell and Dave Lanning were really appealing. They were perfect foils for each other, Dave the antidote to Sid’s excited nature. It reminded me a lot of John Madden and Pat Summerall from NFL.”

Early on after discovering the sport, Greg was hooked on darts

Our discussion also shifted to some of Greg’s favourite players. As well as the excellent James Wade, there were a few on his list. “John Part is definitely on there. I know that Taylor is also a bit of a cop-out but he had this nasty, killer instinct which I would compare to the great basketball player, Larry Bird, who was very intimidating with his game and his presence. I am also beginning to like Michael Smith a lot more, as I think he is going to win a major this year and is slowly realising that he has to win for himself and himself only. He was fantastic in New York. I also really like Darren Webster and Mervyn King, with his lunch pack and Thermos of coffee for events – he has been playing for so long and I have huge respect for him. He reminds me a lot of my dad who was that kind of guy.”

Outside of sporting interests, Greg has achieved a BA in Mathematical Sciences in his native New Jersey. He holds a strong interest in chance and gaming theory, and also spent time as a poker player, which we spoke a little bit about. “My interest in mathematics and poker began at about 7 years old, as my mother always liked to play various card and board games. As I got older, I learnt how to play and play better. Over time, my acumen for mathematics also improved, and my knowledge of game strategies and dynamics developed a lot. I learned also how to exploit the psychological weaknesses and dynamics of games. When I was in my mid-20s, I took up live poker and particularly video poker using these skills. I played over six million hands and made a good living doing it. I ended up giving up poker however to look after my son, who was receiving early intervention treatment after his autism diagnosis. This precluded me from travelling as I stayed at home to support him with this.”

Developments in the crunching of numbers is certainly one of the most interesting current aspects of the game. The work of many, including for example Christopher Kempf (who spoke to dartsweb in 2019 and I referenced in my chat with Greg) has helped to open up new ways of how we can assess performance. Our guest offered his views on this: “What really piques my mathematical interests is the tactical side of the game, and although it has improved I don’t think it has improved enough. Too many players leave themselves on poor shots as they don’t plan ahead enough in legs. I am also interested in how certain scores are more likely to leave players on bogey numbers later down the line, and I don’t think some players assume enough risk especially in short formats.”

“I love watching the dynamics when players pinch legs, seeing if players don’t recover from those blows. I think a lot of people like Christopher have added substance to the statistical side of the game which is highly useful to newer players. It closes the gap between levels of talent, especially as the older players are often more complacent with their strategies. I also think that set play is not prevalent enough on tour, and that players that do really well in the World Championship often don’t understand that it is an anomalous format which doesn’t necessarily serve them well to the grind of the tour, which includes a lot of shorter format darts.”

“I think considerations also have to be made for how we present the game to people. For example, at the US Darts Masters, although I liked the graphics and camera quality, I did notice they weren’t showing checkout routes, which for a casual fan is essential to understanding the game.”

Our guest was among those lucky enough to attend the US Darts Masters at the iconic Madison Square Garden

Speaking just a few days after the event had taken place at the fabulous Madison Square Garden, the US Masters was a natural topic of conversation. Greg himself was lucky enough to attend and was delighted with how the event went. “I have lived in New Jersey my whole life, and am just a short journey away to the Madison. I’ve been over 50 times in my life for basketball, hockey and various concerts. The one sporting event which could probably beat the darts was when I was a youngster and played hockey there, and got to meet the great Bobby Orr which was extremely cool.”

“The tournament was very special because these players don’t come here very often, and it was an absolute buzz. If I was being nit picky, I would say that it was tricky to follow the action if you didn’t have good seats due to the grainy resolution of the screens and poor illumination in the building, which isn’t a problem I have experienced even in really poor seats in the large venue for sporting events. I was also surprised by how blown away the players were by New York, and it would have been nice for the PDC to set up a meet and greet opportunity for the fans to see players and get autographs, even if you had to pay for it. It could have been great for the fans to connect with players on this level.”

Greg however was keen to stress just how fantastic a chance this is for the PDC to advance the game in the United States. “The venue is absolutely perfect for darts – the geographical centre of New York is in Brooklyn, and 27 million people live within a 100 mile radius of there, out of 330 million people in the United States. There is such a market there to appeal to and it makes it an ideal venue. Them coming back next year is really going to be a goldmine for the PDC. I found out after the event that 8 friends of mine have already got tickets, and if that’s just people I know think of how many more will have done the same.”

Chats with North American guests often end up going to what Greg joked was the ‘million dollar’ question: what else is there that the game’s leading figures can be doing to push the game across the Atlantic? He offered his solution, “I started learning more about cricket when it looked like there was going to be delays to the MLB season, and through my cable package I could watch cricket 24/7. I was watching live events and I said to myself, ‘Why can’t I watch darts like this?’ We should be able to watch darts in a more mainstream style. I know DAZN covers it a lot in commercial venues, but I think there is a lot of work there to be done to try to sell commercial accounts and get darts on those screens. Even the event cornhole is on ESPN. If they can show cornhole, they can show darts, even if it is a bit limited at first.” Hope you’re listening, darts gods!

Many thanks to Greg Heim 

Images courtesy of Greg

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