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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Dartistry Takes the Day

All eyes arrowed in on the bull's-eye this weekend when the best and brightest of the Russian dart-playing scene gathered at the Sport Hotel, a lonely outpost of Soviet style and service tucked amid snowdrifts on Leninsky Prospekt.

For two days, Russians and the occasional foreigner gathered in the hotel's first-floor banquet hall to take their shot at winning the Fifth International Winter Darts Festival.

Onlookers dined on cold tongue and kotleti and imbibed copious amounts of champagne, vodka and whiskey while watching the proceedings. A microphone was placed directly behind the board so that a satisfying thunk could be heard throughout the room with every shot.

Volodya Yakovlev, the director of the Russian Federation of Non-Traditional Sports and the tournament's organizer, said he was pleased with the growing popularity of darts, which appeared on a wide scale only a few years ago in Russia.

"Darts is good because it's not expensive to play," said Yaklovlev, 29. "And anyone can play it, so it's a good casual game that everyone can enjoy without having to feel competitive."

Paul Durrant, a visiting sports equipment distributor from Essex, England whose company, Durro, was one of the tournament's sponsors, was unremitting in his admiration of the game.

"It's great for counting," Durrant enthused, referring to the end of the game, when players must come up with exact combinations of numbers to eliminate their remaining points. "Before I started playing darts I couldn't do mathematics at all, and now I can add up any combination of numbers in under two seconds."

"It's great for children in that way," threw in Andy Vaughan, president of Armadillo Ltd., another of the tournament's sponsors.

But the grown-ups had more than addition and subtraction on their mind at the tournament, where competitive matches of 501 were the game of the day. Although the Sunday crowd periodically grew noisy and distracted during the marathon six-hour proceedings, the tables were eventually cleared and the bleary-eyed audience sat up a little straighter and tried to give its full attention to the men's final round. The lineup proved a classic confrontation: Russian vs. Englishman.

The hometown favorite, Dmitry Ostachev, a tall, lanky player, was up against Durrant, who inadvertently found himself in the finals.

"I don't know what I'm doing here," mused Durrant, 44, whose healthy beer belly bespoke his long association with the game. "I was just asked to play, and I didn't think I would make it to the finals, but here I am."

The Russian camp was slightly more serious. "If Dmitry can win, it will be fantastic," Yakovlev said as the players threw practice shots. "Everyone here dreams about playing against an Englishman, because it's their traditional game."

During the final few moments, excitement among the Russian members of the crowd reached a fever pitch, with cries of "Davai, Dima! We're with you!" coming from all corners of the room. In the end training won out over tradition, with Ostachev, dressed in a red sports shirt with "Russia" emblazoned across the back, taking the game handily, even landing a perfect 180-point throw. The players embraced warmly, and Ostachev collected his 400,000 ruble prize.

"Everyone here tonight is great friends," Yak-ovlev said happily as the evening wound to a close. "Everyone here has been brought together by their love of darts."