Today's topic will be an "unexpected lead" situation. Imagine you play against an opponent much better than you, but up to some reason he throws really bad darts or maybe you play the game of your life and sneak in front of him. In many cases something pretty strange happens: The weaker player who actually is in front starts to get nervous and often blunders the match away.
What's happening is this: Everybody goes in a match with special thoughts on how the match will be. That's okay, it is important to be prepared for what will go on on the board within the next minutes. If one plays against a strong opponent one expects to struggle, and normally this is true. But sometimes things are easier than we expect, and if this situation occurs, we are surprised, and when we are surprised, we start to think. "Wow, what's up now! I'm in the lead! I have a chance now! I'll HAVE TO DO IT NOW!!" Then you are in this "I have to - it's now or never!" - mood, and by thinking that way you put yourself under pressure. But putting yourself under pressure will allow tension to come in. We all know that tension is a bad feeling, and we normally recognize when we are tensed. And this is the tricky effect of the unexpected lead situation - you are that happy and surprised about being in front you don't notice the rise of tension, and exactly this is the reason why so many players fail then.
The solution is: expect the unexpected. Always remember before a match that it can be easier than you might think. I painfully noticed that myself. I was playing in the World Masters event in London, and I was up to John Lowe. The situation was pretty clear to me - I'll be up in a struggle. But what actually happened was that John was playing rubbish, and I mean complete rubbish; 45s, 41s, and so on. I was faced with a 200 points lead in the first leg! I had nine(!) darts on the double for that leg, but I couldn't close it. Needless to say I was confused, and the match was an easy 2-0 2-0 win for John afterwards. If only I had known about this phenomenon at this time... it was one of the situations where I first started to notice how important the mental side of the game is (sigh!).
Especially unexperienced players get confused by this situation. Usually they play better when they are behind than when they are in the lead - just because an unexperienced player is more used to being behind. Just watch the talented young lads in a tournament - I'm sure you'll find it true. And at last remember this: Don't care much about a player's name. Now I know that even John Lowe sometimes plays like John Smith...
Karlheinz Zöchling, Vienna, July 21, 1996