Theide, Robert

Robert (Bob) Theide

Career base: Morrestown NJ (Suburb of Philadelphia, PA)

 

Accomplishments:

1970, Most Valuable Player in the Pennsylvania State Dart Tournament

Culver City: 1st – Team;

North American Open: 2nd – Singles;

United States Darting Association Open – 1st – Singles;

1971, North American Open: 1st – Singles

American dart league (NECDL) High Average 48.5

1972, Garden State American Dart League High Average – 52.8

1973, Schmidt’s Open (Philadelphia): 1st – singles;

1974, Schmidt’s Open (Philadelphia): 1st – singles.

 

“I played softball at lot before I played darts, and after a game we’d go back to the tavern for a couple of beers. There was an American dart board in the place and since I didn’t shoot pool, I wanted something to do and picked up the darts. I started playing some people in the place and started winning games and the people would tell me I was lucky to win. I liked playing and started getting good at it so I started practicing and playing more often. Our business was up in Camden at the time and I’d go over to Kelly’s bar for lunch. I saw the dart board and stopped after work for a few beers and some dart playing. I asked Babe Kelly, the owner, about the dart team and he gave me a big score I’d have to make to be on the team, something like 51, and I told him I didn’t think I could make that much but I thought I could shoot 45. They never called me. Then, when I was going to Rutgers night school, I’d stop after school at a place called the Red Eagle to throw some darts. One time the bartender told me one of their players quit and asked me what team I played for and when I said I didn’t play for a team he signed me up for theirs. I played out the season under that guy’s name.

Some people, like a guy named Steve Brown, who was very good, said that some people just have a knack for darts and that I excelled because I was one of them. I didn’t say anything, but it was really because I put a lot of practice time in. I practiced the bulls eye for half an hour first. The reason was, Tommy Eagan told me three things about the bulls eye: if you can control the bulls eye, you can control the games; it gave the best place to develop your grouping of darts; then there was a game called bulls eye. After the bulls eye, I set up a platform to hit, like back to back scores of seven, and back to back doubles a set number of times, then back to back seven score and eight score. Basically it was get the first dart in the double, then play off that dart with the last two. I played for grouped darts and hardly ever played a game where you split darts. Jack Fletcher and Joe Schwartz, guys from Delaware county over by Philly, played those kinds of games. I played in three leagues at the time, on different nights, and I had Sundays off and Mondays off and Thursdays too. But then I’d practice on Sunday and stop in Fairview Gardens on my way home from work for a couple of beers on Saturday, and if I didn’t have to be home and somebody was there, I’d call my wife and tell her I was going to stay and play, if not I went home. A lot of times she’d go to her parents. And Friday nights I played a lot.

I didn’t pull the dart all the way back before I shot it, and I didn’t shoot it with my arm far out either, I sort of flipped it. After my accident, I found out a lot later, I started throwing it instead of flipping it and that was bad. I started pushing the dart out and that got me throwing off side to side. I didn’t take any time off after the accident, I guess I was afraid I’d loose what ever I had, but if I had I might not have started bad habits. At times I could really throw it out there and other times I couldn’t, I wasn’t consistent.

I used to play with Crazy Jack, Jack Eagan, who played out of Fairview Gardens. He was a 41 average player in the league, but for money he played a lot different. He used to play Jim Brady a lot and the more he drank the better he got, until he had enough that it would get to him. Brady would make sure he got enough for that to happen, too.

I didn’t play American darts all that long, maybe six – seven years. I got better at it after I got married because I’d practice at home at lot more. I didn’t play English darts all that long either, maybe three, four, five years is all I played really good. Then I had an accident with a train, over in Philly, and that messed that all up.

In 1970 I played in Philadelphia on an American dart team, and there was a guy named Charlie Young who had a bar there where I saw in Gains Score Card, that was like a news bulletin about darts that was in all the bars over there, there was a team going out to California to play in a dart tournament and they were looking for donations to help with the expenses. I got hold of Junior, Charlie Young, and told him I’d like a shot at playing on the team. So, ah, I paid my own way to California and went with them as part of the team. I had success out there. Basically the difference between American and English was learning to count for out shots and getting used to the longer line. They played English at eight feet at the time. I learned the game in four to six weeks and went out there and came in second place. The reason I lost was I didn’t count right on a couple of shots, and I think I drank too much. In December 1970, I went to a tournament in New York put on by Bob McLeod. It was the United States Dart Association Open and I beat Richie Yost in the finals. What pumped me up was that I had come in second place in California earlier in the year and I didn’t want to come in second place again.

That was the year I met McLoed and I started playing both American and English darts. The longer line in English darts didn’t make any difference once you got used to it, except you didn’t have the real good accuracy from that far back. In fact to get used to the eight foot line, I practiced at eight foot six a few days, then when you move up the line it feels close. In the Delaware county league, where I was playing American darts, they put down a toe board so you had to stay behind the line, so practicing the longer line helped my American dart game. I think I averaged 43 the first year in American darts, then I think I won high average with 46.8 the next year but ended up with almost a 53 average later.

In the beginning I didn’t play money matches, but when I did play for money I played with my own money. Most of the other players didn’t play with their money, they played with somebody backing them, like Lenny Craig and Richie Yost.

Yostie and me used to go to Trenton and play Ernie Reel and Jimmie Hasson and we just walked through them, in American darts, and won about $1100. I got into an argument with Yost because his backer put up the money for Yost and I put up my own money and I didn’t think a three way was split was right, I wanted it to be 50/50. I didn’t ask anybody to back me up with their money, I played on my own. Sometimes I’d get it from Art Caness, who owned the Fairview Gardens but mostly it was my own. When I got married I had a little kitty where I’d put money I won from darts after I took out my expenses for the night, and that was what I used to play money matches. If I won $20 in a night I’d put half in the kitty jar. That way I never went into my own money, so playing for money never bothered me because I was never playing with my last dollar. There was a guy who could play really well for quarters but as soon as you got the money up his game fell apart. There were certain people that way.

Lenny Craig and I played one really good match in a place in Gloucester. Lenny beat me because I started out real good and we were shooting well into the 50s and 60s then after about four hours I was shooting in the low 50s and Lenny was still hitting 55 and 60. We were playing what was called a freeze out, where each person would put up an amount of money, in this case it was $100, then play for so much per game and when somebody won the $100 it was over. We were playing for $10 a game and I was only a few games away from breaking his back earlier, because I came out strong. There was one game in that match where I played something like 67 and lost it. I didn’t crumble after that and it wasn’t the deciding game or anything, it was just a game we played during the match. That was just the caliber of darts we were playing. I remember me & Whitey Vitorski played Jack Fletcher & Joe Swartz and Whitey shot a 57 and I shot a 69 and we barely won. We weren’t keeping track of what the whole score was in those games but we would sometimes add a game up at the end. Most of the time we didn’t know what the total score was.

Ernie and Jim came down to a place Lenny Craig and I were in, looking for Lenny Craig to play a money match. Lenny wasn’t sure about the money end, if there was any, so we went up there and watched Ernie drop $500 in a card game, then another $500 on the dart board, and that’s a lot of money for a guy that did roofing for a living. He had Joe T. , the owner behind him but still, that’s a bundle. There was some talk that Ernie was connected to the Irish Mafia, but I wasn’t sure about that.

I didn’t start out playing money matches. I started playing for beers, then a quarter a game after I got better and thought I could win. Then after a while, when I’d win most of the time, I started playing for more. At that time I controlled the number of beers I’d drink. I’d have a couple, then just sip on one while I played. I remember one time, a matter of months after I got married, I played a match downstairs in the Fairview Gardens until 7 O’clock in the morning against Peanuts, John Lowery. He got action. He took me into south Philly where we got to playing $100 a game against a guy named Sonny Ricobini. A couple of his brothers, or step brothers got killed, not from darts, from other things. The guy ended up owing us $600 but when I found out who he was I wasn’t going to try to collect it. I told Lowery his cut of the winnings that night was the $600 we were owed.

Me and Joe Dick went to Springfield one time and got playing partners for $100 a nine inning game, and I wanted to get more so I told Joe I was going to hold back a little and for him to pour it on, because he was only throwing fours, five’s and sixes, and he said he was trying already. We played the Store brothers up there, and their favorite game was triple thirteen, and like I said, if you play them off their game they’ll stop calling it, I made three triples eight out of nine games, so we didn’t see that game any more. That didn’t work all the time though. Some good players, if that was their game, they’d come back at it because they’d figure you had your shot and they could still play really well in it.

Bob McLoed was trying to do things with English darts and began using me to build himself up. He had connections and everything and tried to get darts on cable TV, I think Joe Baltadonis played in one, and George Silberzahn did something in Boston, but it never took off. He connected himself with Kwiz darts in England because Unicorn had a distributor in America already. He became sort of a sponsor, but he only paid my entrance fees and I got a royalty off the sales of my signature dart, but that was about it. I was sponsored by Schmidt’s beer just before my accident. They paid my travel and board as well as entrance fees.

The first English dart tournaments I played in I used the Widdy, wooden dart. I thought the metal darts were too heavy and then when I did get a metal dart it was Silver trim. Those darts were thinner, and gave me shooting room in the triple and had a grip on them. I used feathers flights, Silver trim flights were the best, Unicorn and Kwiz flights fell apart. I used feathers about all the time, although I did fool around with the plastic ones. I needed the feathers because I didn’t throw hard. Like, I couldn’t throw a nail like Barry Twomblow from England. He used to come over here for Unicorn and put on exhibitions on TV doing things like knocking an apple off someone’s head with a 20 penny nail. That stopped the time he hit the guy in head with the nail, he missed the apple. Kwiz duplicated the Silver Trim dart and that became my signature dart. Brass darts were 15 grams and 20 gram darts were unheard of. I guess the longer you play the heavier dart you want because I switched to the 18 gram dart later. Silver Trim drilled the brass dart out and put lead in them to make them heavier. Eventually I went to an 18 gram tungsten because after I saw them I realized the 15 gram were too thin.

In English darts I’d practice the doubles because at that time the tournament games were double on, double off and if you don’t get double on, you don’t do it. Practice on doubles not only got you into the flow of it, it gave you confidence. In fact, I had a couple of tournaments I won where I was throwing double on all the time, I never missed a double on.

I joined a team in New York City in a place up on 88th street I think it was and I’d drive an hour and a half each way to go play. They had a board back in the corner and people only played in there in league nights. There was a place called the Anchors Away, though, down near Hells kitchen and they played a lot in there.

English darts got started in South Jersey out of Fairview Gardens because we had a team there that was part of the Philadelphia English dart league. I knew the owner and I talked her into it. That was the first team in South Jersey I can think of. After that I talked Joe Baltandonis into putting English dart boards in his place: the Mt. Royal Inn. The South Jersey English Dart League started that way.

I took Joe to the 1971, or ’72 US Open, and he beat me. I didn’t like that he didn’t know how to count and there were people telling him how to count and that broke my concentration. That’s a big thing when you start hearing what people in the crowd are saying. That’s a big bad thing.

I went to California in 1970 and came in second, then in 1971 I won it. Pims Cup, a British liqueur, came to the United States because they wanted to advertise in football until they found out what the price tag was, so then they ran this tournament and got a lot of advertising out of that. They ran a few tournaments then had a round robin in Chicago with the three winners of the other tournaments, one east coast, one west coast and one central. I won that and then went to England and I did pretty good there. You didn’t play heads up over there, you shot partners and we played all their top players in a tournament in Trafalgar Square. We won one match when I took a 102 out. The people loved that because the caliber of player at that time wasn’t what it was later. The team was Jack Carr, from California, me, and Jackie Eagan, the woman from Washington DC who won the women’s section. I’d never played in a tournament until I went to California, even in American darts I didn’t play in a tournament until later at the state tournament. I think the secret to tournament darts is concentration, where you get to the line and blank everything out and zero in on what you want to hit. When I was playing well I’d pinpoint where I wanted to hit that first dart, I’d zero in and concentrate on that spot for the first dart then group off it. I knew if that first one went I could put the other two in there too. I learned something else from Lenny Craig about darts. I played partners with Lenny at a tournament against a couple of other players, then after we’d played for quite a while two of us quit, but Lenny and the other guy played more, and after the other guy quit Lenny played all night against some other guy, a German guy I think. That got me to thinking, if you practice for two and a half hours that has to be equal to five hours of playing and stamina has something to do with tournament play. The waiting, at tournaments, is difficult to handle. I’d try to find a board to stay loose on, so I’d be ready to play, right out of the box, like you have too. The problem with that is that the board you practice on might be different than the one you play on. But you have to stay loose and ready. Towards the end I didn’t do that, I’d sit and relax with a beer between rounds of play.

The first one I went to was held in the Culver City civic center, I think and it was like a gymnasium, with bleachers, you know? There were twenty some dart boards, maybe, and about 150 entrants. We got in with the people from northern California because they were outsiders too, because most of the people were from southern California. The first thing I wanted to know was where I could practice and relax a little.

When I was playing good I looked to get another good player as a partner for a better chance for some money and we usually chopped prize money with partners. Partner games is tough because you have to rely on another person and if they are a little off that could effect you. I guess Ray Fisher was the easiest person to play with as a partner. I remember one time I was with Joe Baltadonis, Ray Fisher and a few other people and we went to a St. Patrick’s day tournament, and Joe beat me in the finals. I didn’t like that one too much, but it taught me something. Me and Ray Fisher were in the doubles finals and I ran out of gas on the triple twenty so I switched to the triple 19 and I had a 171 and a number of 133s. The guys we played in the finals got so wrapped up in the game that after I hit to end the game the guy was going to the line to shoot and we had to tell him it was over, he lost. I think that is the way you have to be. I didn’t want to pay attention to the other person because if you compete to the other person’s score you can psych yourself out. I don’t think I looked at the other individual, I just wanted to score a hundred each time I went up. I remember a time in Canada when the other guy went up to shoot after it was over: I’d shot an eleven dart game.

I don’t think I played English darts that much for money.

One of the best trophies I have is the one for “Most Valuable Player” in the Pennsylvania State Tournament. I was up in Nanicoke, Pennsylvania and played for the Philadelphia team and we won. It was the first time a team from Philly won in a long time. That was in the early ’70s. I was playing both English and American at the time and was playing really well. There were only a few English tournaments but getting ready for them, from the longer line, made you a better American player. Lenny Craig is the one that put into my mind that the line doesn’t really make a difference. He used to play for money at arms length, at the line and back at eight feet. So I thought if he could do it, I could.

The Schmidt’s Tournament in Philly had a big trophy that if someone won it three years in a row they could keep it. Well I won it the first two years but they canceled the tournament after that so I figured it was mine and I kept it.

After I moved here to Delaware, I used to go over here to a place where a couple of older guys played. They even have a league around here somewhere. In about 1998, I tried going back to playing American darts and I could feel a difference in the way I shot a dart, I wasn’t delivering correctly. I sat down and thought about it, the way I used to do it, like analyzing myself, and realized that after my accident, I started developing bad habits to compensate for problems I was having with my eyes and other things, but I didn’t know it. Now, there was something with my leg, I didn’t have my foot right. I used to hold the dart side ways in front of my face before I shot it, so I’d have a second to concentrate a little more and to pick that spot out. Another thing, I was holding the dart up, in front of my eye, and I realized I used to hold it lower and look over it at the board like sighting a rifle. To play darts you have to have x amount of things and one of them is concentration. Another thing is a comfortable stance, and your release is another one. I think when you’re on you should take a picture of your stroke, then when you’re off you could take another picture and see the difference.

I guess if I applied myself I could have gotten it back, but to practice you have to have the time to do that practice and physically, I don’t know if I have the stamina, I have circulation problems with my legs. You have to have a clear mind, you can’t have problems with business on your mind. You need the concentration and the desire and I noticed, when I tried to pick up darts again after laying off for a while, that my concentration was broken by other things. When something you get out of your mind pops back into it that’s a sign your concentration is shot.

In the late ’70s I was only going to tournaments in New England, Washington DC and Atlantic City, and I played in a summer singles league in Philly and I did fairly good in that but I started devoting more time to the business and wasn’t playing or practicing much and tapered off darts. Then in the early ’80s, Barney, Ron Barnstead, and I were partners at a tournament down in Atlantic City, that was the last tournament I played in. I don’t know exactly why, but I stepped back and figured it was foolish to embarrass myself with the way I was playing, and that it was just a waste of time. You can’t play if you feel that way, so I stopped.”

 

Interviewed April 2003

Passed away June 2004

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