Cover Shots and Markers – The easiest way to improve scoring

The Easiest Way To Improve Scoring In 501

Something in this game is allowed to be easy. I am not going to ask that you make any physical changes to what you do for this, but let me be clear, there is no magic pill; there is work to be done. All I am going to do is ask you to think about your decision-making regarding Cover Shots and Markers.

“Wait a minute. Why should I cover? I am better on the 20s and can hit 60s and 100s all day long”. We all have friends who epitomize this, and we know that twice as many of those 60s are 41s and twice as many of those 100s are 81s. The goal, in part is to make the 41s into 59s and 97s, and the 81s into 99s and 137s. This is done with your cover. While this may seem lofty to some, this is meant to provide eye-opening perspective for beginner and intermediate players who are looking for an edge to get to the next level. The more advanced players already know this. – How do you think they got advanced ? 😉

Before dissecting what Cover Shots and Markers are, let’s look at familiar scenarios that put us in a position to think about our decision-making.

Scenario #1

You throw 2 well-aimed darts into the single 20 above the triple, and the 3rd dart veers into the 5 or the 1 without deflecting.

Scenario #2

You throw the first dart level/low just inside the upper T20 wire. You think it’s a great marker, but the 2nd dart you spray/deflect one way, and the 3rd dart you spray/deflect the other way.

Scenario #3

You throw the 1st dart below the T20 wire, flight up. The 2nd and 3rd darts deflect on the flight(s) and/or veer left or right without deflecting.

Have you made the right decision in staying on the T20 in these scenarios?

These scenarios and others are common, and where a cover shot is helpful. Sadly, such instances are not often recognized in the heat of the moment, as a result we don’t often learn from them. Instead, we make physical/trajectory adjustments as opposed to deciding to shoot another target. We convince ourselves we are doing something physically wrong when our shots go awry. We then attempt to correct one physical adjustment with another. The problem can spiral from there.

Defining the terms to better understand the challenge:

Many of us have heard the terms “Cover” and “Marker”, but let’s define them in a more digestible way.  

Cover Shot: Throwing at a different triple (most often the T19, T18, or T17) because the T20 is covered or concealed by the 1st and/or 2nd dart in the board.

Marker: A dart that is either in, or close to, the intended target that can and should be used to channel (to convey or direct into or through) the next dart(s) into the intended target.

While focused on scoring in 501, a dart in the board needs to be viewed as either a Cover Shot or a Marker – that’s it.

(Note: Sometimes a dart “in” the intended target is actually a Cover.)

Distilling the Cover Shot Further:

Covered vs. Concealed

When a triple is “covered” by a dart, what should come to mind is – physically blocked. The lie of a barrel and/or flight is physically in the way of the T20. Even if a part of the triple is visible, you can see that the likelihood of hitting that triple with the next dart has greatly decreased.

A “concealed” triple is one that may not seem physically blocked, but is visually obscured or the trajectory of the next dart will be impeded by the lie of the dart(s) already in the board. In other words the clean flight of the next dart has been taken away even though you may be able to see the target clearly. Recognizing your concealed T20 is incredibly challenging and the instance where many more cover shots need to be taken.

Something to have in the back of your mind regarding covered and concealed targets: Your sight line is a straight line, likely not horizontal on the T20 (unless your eye level is at 6’0”), and the dart does not fly on your sight line. It flies in a parabola, or curved line. That curved line of the dart’s flight intersects your sight line twice, once upon release, and again as it contacts (or approaches contact) to the board. This is what makes us think that a target is more open than in truly is.

remember, When it comes to scoring in 501:

If it is not a marker, it is a cover shot.


The ‘First 9’ is a stat sometimes kept in playing 501. The first 9 darts at any level are all about scoring. Would it surprise you to know that the best player in the world, Michael Van Gerwen does NOT shoot the T20 on 30% of his first 9 darts thrown in a leg? That’s right. He takes his cover shot. (

Why? He does it because he recognizes his cover shot and markers better than anyone and does seamlessly in middle of a turn.  If he does it so often, why don’t we?

Reasons We Don’t Cover… And The Debunking of Those Reasons:

  • 57s-59s are more challenging when chalking. (As are 95s-99s).

Practice your math by chalking more. This has been made easier with scoring apps.

  • Many local leagues award “all-star points” for scoring 100+.

As an appeal to all steel-tip leagues: Change your all-star rules to incentivize 95+. Players are not learning the game properly if they are attempting to receive personal accolades by staying on the T20 instead of covering when logistically and mathematically appropriate.

  • There is sometimes a social stigma on “19 shooters”.

This is ridiculous. If you can theoretically start on T19 and throw 5 of them in route to a perfect leg there is nothing wrong with shooting it.

  • American interest in Cricket.

It generally dictates needing to move your feet on the oche to stay on covered or concealed targets.

  • A stubborn approach in thinking we are good enough to “fit it in”.

Our community is full of great, proud players who are not always willing to try something new or admit there is a better way.

  • We are unsure how to differentiate our own Cover shot from our own Marker.

Read on! It is about to get easier.

The Lie of Your Dart: The most important factor in Recognizing Your Cover:

There are many variables that help you recognize your cover: Your barrel, shaft, flight, sight line, handedness, are just a few but, the most important one is the lie of your dart in the board. For the force used in an average dart throw, a dart can only really stick in the board from slightly below 0° (level), to about a 50° angle.

(For the purposes of this article we will not get into the nuances of the less frequent/aggressive horizontal angles, but you can be sure if you have an odd horizontal lie, it is worth covering more often.)

While darts go in differently for each player, it is easiest to look at how your darts lie in 1 of 2 ways: 

  1. Flights up – above a 20° angle.
    • (Devon Petersen, Danny Noppert, Benito Van De Pas)
  1. Flights between a 20°-0° angle, down to a Level/Below Level angle. – These will be approached the same way.
    • (Michael Van Gerwen, Peter Wright) down to (Phil Taylor, Justin Pipe)

 (Angle measurements are approximations. You can measure your dart lie with the ‘Measurement’ app on your phone if you are curious.)

Guidelines for Cover shots with your 2nd and 3rd darts:

2nd Dart: 

Assessing the lie your 1st dart is crucial. Remember we are concealed more often than we realize. That being said…

If your flights are up- above a 20°angle, and your 1st dart is:

Above t20

it's A Marker.

below t20

It's a cover shot.

If your flights are between a 20°-0° angle, down to a Level/Below Level angle, and your 1st dart is:

Above T20

It's A cover Shot.

Below T20

It's A Marker.

3rd Dart:

There are 2 safe and smart guidelines (regardless of dart lie) for covering on your 3rd dart assuming the cover shot does not leave a bogey.

With 1st and 2nd darts, one is above the T20, and the other is below the T20. In this case the target is likely covered and concealed. There is no need to try to “fit it in”. Both darts are potentially in the way. Covering is a better choice than trying to fit in between/force/finesse darts to the target.

Cover Shot. 

With 1st and 2nd darts, the grouping is tight, and the barrels are crossed in any way. When barrels cross, and form an “X”, they become a strong physical obstacle to your target, to which neither dart can be used as a reliable marker. Bad deflections or rejection become more likely.

Cover Shot.

Despite these guidelines it will be a mental challenge to overcome the habit and desire to stay on the T20. How do you know if a particular dart lie is a cover shot or marker until you throw it? The answer is, you don’t. You must throw it ad nauseam in practice. You must test it and yourself repeatedly. Use similar 1st dart lies and throw some as a marker and some as a cover shot and informally assess your findings.

You must process your practice in order to learn from it.

For example:

Based on each 1st dart’s location and lie:

  1. Did the 2nd or 3rd dart deflect into/out of the intended target?
  2. Did the 2nd or 3rd dart veer left or right without deflecting?

This meta-analysis should be part of every form-focused practice.

Retraining Our Minds To Ask The Question: Is it my Cover Shot or my Marker?

Projectile motion goes back to Galileo and involves more science than you signed up for with this article, but for the sake of understanding let me outline how our brains improperly process what we innately know, with respect to darts.

Imagine for a moment you are having a football catch and the distance to your target stays fixed. You are aiming and throwing. As you do this, you hone the motion and energy you need to get the ball to your target accurately. Now put a defender in the way. If you keep throwing the same pass the ball does not get to your target. What do you do? You unconsciously make a change in trajectory to try to get around/over the obstacle. We look to avoid the confrontation. 

This is different than what needs to be done with relation to your cover shot. With a dart that covers or conceals your target the key is to change targets, not trajectory.

With cover shots the goal is to change targets to avoid  confrontation. With marker darts you need to embrace confrontation to channel the subsequent dart(s).

Question: Have you ever seen a 180 hit where the darts don’t bang into each other on their way to the T20? 

I haven’t. It doesn’t happen.

There is evident and needed confrontation.

If you feel the need to finesse around a dart lie to get to your intended target, you are looking to avoid confrontation. That being said, this is YOUR cover shot. More times than not in trying to avoid the obstacle, we change trajectory, and pull into the 1 or 5 without even deflecting. So don’t do it. Shoot the unobstructed cover shot on the T19 instead.

You must continue testing the limits of covers/markers. Once you get to know your cover shot better, by default your marker recognition becomes better too. That is when your groupings get tighter and 60s become 100s, 100s become 140s, and 140s become 180s. As this happens more you will truly embrace the confrontation of the darts banging into each other when they are supposed to.

Now that you know how to approach the challenge here is why you should do it.

Reasons to cover:

  • You cannot stay on the triple 20 to throw a perfect leg.

This may seem like a grandiose starting point, but it is also true.

  • Other triples will be needed for out shots.

You might as well find the range on them more often throughout a match.

  • If you have to cover twice in the same turn (2nd dart at T19, 3rd dart at T18) you are shooting each dart at an unobstructed target and theoretically scoring no less than 57.

You see Adrian Lewis and Rob Cross doing this especially early in a match as they find the range with their high-angled lies. They often hit the T18 for a 93.

  • You cannot deflect on the 1st dart with 2nd and/or 3rd dart if you change targets when necessary.

A fact of physics.

  • Your rejection rate will be lower.

The PDC has fascinating analysis of a 2-year study of darts that don’t make it to the board. My main takeaway from this article is that players with a lower rejection rate also tend to recognize their cover shot more readily. Many players with higher rejection rates have incredibly high-angled lies. -> This translates to less room at the target, less point gripping the sisal, and the unavoidable correlation of not recognizing their cover as well. Also, this does not account for bad deflections that hit an unwanted target. (

  • Changing targets is easier than accurately changing trajectory.
  • You do not have to move your feet to get a better view of a different target.
  • The mental edge you create by showing your opponent you can hit different targets with the same accuracy is invaluable.
  • Not covering when you ought to can put you on tilt.

When you try to finesse around/through covered or concealed targets too often, it leads to spraying many more darts. That can lead you to come undone.

Now comes the fun part

Watch Like a Spotter:

Keith Deller, and the late Eric Bristow have/had worked behind the scenes as “spotters” for Sky Sports helping production determine which of the cameras should be live on television. Part of this job is about reading/knowing a particular players’ tendency to take their cover shot. 

That being said:

  • Start watching matches of your favorite players to read the lie of their darts and analyze when they decide to cover. 
  • Find videos of a professional who has a similar dart lie to yours. Watch what they do. It will be a great place to start assessing when you should cover.
  • Watch the Championship Dart Circuit Championship League matches to assess how some of the best in America and Canada shoot their cover shots. These are the North American players who recognize their cover well. These are the players that know what they need to employ to compete on the biggest stages.
  • Finally, watch opponents when you return to league play in bars/clubs. It’s empowering when you recognize someone else’s cover shot, especially when they don’t take it. It can breed confidence and provide the edge you need to win a leg, simply by observing.



Dr. Manhattan


If you want to reach out to Dax or stay up to date, follow him on Facebook here.

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