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Luke ‘the Nuke’ advances to the finals of the PDC World Darts Championship, and the 16-year old becomes the youngest player to win a match

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England's Luke Littler in action during his match against England's Andrew Gilding on day seven of the World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace, London, on Dec. 21, 2023.Zac Goodwin/The Associated Press

Like a lot of teenagers, Luke Littler enjoys playing video games, eating fast food and following his favourite soccer team, Manchester United. But unlike any other 16-year-old, Mr. Littler has become a sensation in Britain owing to his stunning success in an unlikely sport: darts.

Luke “the Nuke” advanced to the finals of the PDC World Darts Championship on Tuesday, making him the youngest player ever to progress that far in the annual tournament, which captivates the country every holiday season.

“No words. It’s crazy to even think I’m in a World Championship final on my debut,” Mr. Littler told the raucous crowd at London’s Alexandra Palace, commonly known as the Ally Pally. “I was happy winning one game but I could go all the way.”

And how will he prepare for Wednesday’s final against world No. 3 Luke Humphries? Same as always. “In the morning, I’ll go for my ham and cheese omelette, then later a pizza and then practise on the board,” he told Sky Sports with a smile.

Mr. Littler had already made history on Dec. 20 when he won his opening game at the championships, becoming the youngest player to win a match. Now he’s won six in a row and, the way he’s playing, he’ll be favoured to claim the title.

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Luke Littler of England, left, celebrates after winning the semifinal match against Scott Williams of England at the World Darts Championship, in London, on Jan. 2.Kin Cheung/The Associated Press

He hasn’t just won, he’s brushed aside some of the game’s seasoned professionals, including five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld, 56, who earned his first title before the youthful upstart was even born. After cruising past Mr. van Barneveld in the round of 16, Mr. Little took barely an hour to demolish Brendan Dolan, 50, in the quarter-finals on Monday.

In Tuesday’s semi-final, he crushed 2018 world champion Rob Cross, 33, by a score of six sets to two in a best of 11 format.

Not bad for a kid who says he practises less than an hour a day and spends the rest of his time playing video games. “I’d just wake up, play on my Xbox, have some food, have a chuck on the board and go to bed. That’s it,” he told reporters last week. “I don’t engage with anything outside the house, I just stay level-headed.”

His exploits have been front-page news in Britain, where the tabloids have dubbed him “Cool hand Luke” and “Prince of the palace.” And his onstage antics – including asking fans what shot to play during the quarter-finals – have made him a crowd favourite. A video of Mr. Littler savouring a kebab after his first tournament win went viral on social media, and supporters regularly serenade him by singing “you’ve got school in the morning” and “walking in a Littler wonderland” during matches.

He’s become so famous over the last couple of weeks that several soccer stars – including Arsenal’s Declan Rice – have lined up for photographs with the youngster. Tottenham’s James Madison was impressed enough to invite Mr. Littler to the Spur’s home game last weekend as the midfielder’s special guest.

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Luke Littler of England enters during his semi final match against Rob Cross of England on day 15 of the 2023/24 Paddy Power World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace in London.Tom Dulat/Getty Images

“It’s huge,” said Samuel Gill, editor of Darts News, referring to Mr. Littler’s performance. “It kind of transcends darts. It’s something that everybody talks about and everybody wants to know what’s going on instead of just people who watch darts at Christmas or people like myself who are fans of the sport through the year.”

Mr. Gill pointed out, however, that Mr. Littler is no overnight sensation.

He grew up in Warrington, west of Liverpool, where his father drives a cab and his mother works in a shop. His mom, Lisa, has posted a video of young Luke in diapers throwing darts at a magnetic board.

He got his first proper darts set at the age of four and took up the game seriously a few years later. “When we moved to Warrington when I was 8 or 9, we started going out to pubs almost four to five times a week and it was just non-stop,” he told the BBC.

He also joined the St. Helens Youth Darts Academy when he was nine years old and immediately stood out. His focus and hand-eye co-ordination were second to none and he required minimal coaching, recalled the academy’s owner Karl Holden.

“It was more like ‘just leave him to it,’ because he was simply just so damn good,” Mr. Holden said in an interview on Tuesday. “I don’t think there has ever been a player under the age of 21 better than him.”

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Luke Littler of England in action during the semifinal match against Scott Williams of England at the World Darts Championship, in London.Kin Cheung/The Associated Press

By the time he reached his teens, Mr. Littler was thrashing far older competitors and he became a dominant force on the Junior Darts Corporation tour, winning the JDC world championships in 2022 and 2023 – making him the first back-to-back champion. He has also won several senior events including the Irish Open, the Romanian Classic and the Gibraltar Open, and in 2022 he was the youngest player to win a match at the World Darts Federation Lakeside World Championships.

“He’s just been smashing it,” Mr. Holden said. “Wherever he’s gone, he’s just done better than what we expected.”

Mr. Gill and some others have tempered their expectations somewhat. Mr. Littler is still growing physically and some darts’ enthusiasts have questioned whether a growth spurt could alter his throwing technique.

There have been other child prodigies who failed to live up to their early hype, notably, England’s Leighton Bennett who won a senior title in 2018 at the age of 12 but has recently been overtaken by other young players.

But for now, Mr. Littler has shown that his natural ability and fearless confidence could make him a force in darts for many years to come. He’s also told reporters that the £200,000 ($336,221) he’s won so far in prize money at the PDC championship will help fulfill another burning ambition: taking driving lessons.

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