Today the action here at the Professional Darts Corporation's (PDC) Las Vegas Desert Classic shifted from the subdued but tense environment of the qualifying floor to the big stage and the big screen. The set up is pure Hollywood. The show is classic Vegas.
In the slightly exaggerated words of one of the event's television commentators "the public is absolutely engrossed here at the MGM. There's nobody pool-side. There's nobody slot-side." They're all in the Grand Arena.
It's so exciting that I heard the tail fell off the MGM lion!
AND what's going on in the Grand Arena is being watched LIVE by millions of darts fans in flats and pubs throughout the United Kingdom (this is not the same kingdom -- except for the Tories -- as the one with all the animals).
There are plans to distribute some sort of delayed version of the production to some eighteen other countries, including the United States, but since I don't understand the plan or know any of the details, I can't really accurately describe the plan.
The only thing I do know is that the PDC is in intense, but secret, discussions with Jerry Springer. So whatever happens it will likely be even more exciting that what is actually unfolding here in Vegas.
Hundreds of fans here are witnessing an incredible display of darts ability. This afternoon and evening sixteen of the best shooters in the world, all but two from parts of England, battled it out under the lights to see who would advance to tomorrow's top-eight playoffs.
Hometown hero, John Part (who is Canadian but who looks and speaks American) did his supporters proud by eliminating England's Richie "Storky" Burnett. Two 25 year-old kids, Lee Palfryman and Simon Whatley, threw brilliantly to advance past Colin Lloyd and Dennis Smith respectively -- and then found themselves paired via the draw to face each other in what may well be the most exciting duel on tomorrow's card. I think they went out drinking to prepare.
The remaining match-ups for Saturday's 12:00 p.m. start are: Ronnie Baxter vs. John Part; Wayne Mardel vs. Roland Scholton; and Denis Ovens vs. Phil Taylor.
It's going to be an exciting afternoon but beginning at 7:00 p.m it's going to get even better. The remaining four men will meet back at the line in semi-finals matches to determine which two will face off for the $20,000 first place award on Sunday.
Better yet, the ladies (and I DO like the ladies) will come back to the stage. Americans Stacy Bromberg and Carolyn Mars will square off and Brits Crissy Howat and Deta Hedman will toe-the-line. The results, whatever they are, will set up for Sunday a battle that is certain to rouse the patriotic spirit that already exists in the arena to a level that's never even remotely been experienced at a darts tournament on American soil. Sunday's ladies final is going to be the topper to an incredible week here in Las Vegas. Its just a shame that the ladies aren't competing for checks the same size as those the men will be taking home.
The scene today was almost unworldly. The stage is a HUGE sort of orange and yellow structure, crammed with lights and bright red digital read-outs to count down the scores. Two gigantic big screen displays dominate the upper right and left sides of the stage to provide the audience almost a chalker's bird's-eye view of the action. The board is mounted front and center and is illuminated in such a way that it appears to be floating in a kind of magenta hew. Cameras are mounted everywhere, including atop a strange robot-like apparatus that sort of weaves around in the air above the crowd.
Much of this high-tech stuff is controlled and then used to pipe the darts action to the Animal Kingdom from a big and mysterious truck in an alley behind the Grand Arena. I visited this truck with Shane Meeks, Ray Carver and PDC Tournament Director, Tommy Cox, who assured me he was wearing underwear.
Inside the truck I was surprised, and just a little bit alarmed, to discover that one of the main brains behind all of this -- the bloke who actually directs the men who work all of the complicated equipment -- is none other than former World Champion, Eric Bristow. Eric was holding a microphone and watching a small screen that displayed the dart board on the stage inside the arena. As the shooters worked their way down to finishing range Eric would yell a number into the microphone so that the camera guys would know what number on the board to bead in close on so that the world's television viewers could see the result of the next shot as it happened.
I know this all sounds kind of complicated and apparently it is. I can say this confidently because I also spent time in the Press Room where they had a television running. The shooters were shooting. The commentators were commentating. The robot-like thing was snaking around capturing excited fans holding up 180 placards and BRITISH FLAGS.
As the shooters worked their way below 170, the picture on the television would quickly start shifting around from its standard focus on the triple twenty. Eric was making all this happen with his little microphone!
But then a strange thing occurred. Phil Taylor was looking at a standard (for him anyway) 120 close. As he readied his shot the television screen filed up with a close-up view of the triple twenty. The dart flew and landed square. Suddenly the view on the television screen filled up with a close-up on the triple nineteen. There was a soft thud and then the camera quickly shifted its focus to the area just below double tops, where the second dart had already landed -- just in the nick of time to catch the final dart as it slid into the red above it.
The reason I mention all of this is because it is just another example of how well the PDC has thought out and planned this event. The job Eric Bristow is doing, even though he might make an occasional goof, is essential to the success of the show. What's amazing is the PDC apparently KNEW that Eric would mess up occasionally. Had they NOT known this they would also not have known that he would be AVAILABLE for the job!
So, with just two days remaining the best is yet to come. It seems that all is running smoothly and that the PDC has thought of everything.
But I'm afraid this is not entirely the case. No way baby!
That is why I am now passionately appealing to everybody in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave who reads this column -- all three of you, including my dog Bentley and ESPECIALLY MR. BICKIE -- to get on the phone IMMEDIATELY and call ANYONE you know who is in Las Vegas for the Desert Classic.
Eric Bristow is beaming this thing all over earth. Stacy Bromberg and Carolyn Mars have made it to the semi-finals and one of them is going to toe-the-line on Sunday against one of two British birds for the Desert Classic championship. There's going to be wild music and bursts of thunder and lightening. Maybe even live elephants and some monkey's. Laurett Meddis may dance. These PDC blokes are extravaganza planning EXPERTS.
But the horrible PDC oversight is that there are NO AMERICAN FLAGS! Zippo. And John Part needs something too.
Hundreds of flags are required FAST.
PLEASE help, Mr. Bickie!
From the Field,