The 147 Vs. The Nine-Darter

It is a question that has been debated between snooker and darts fans for many years, what is the most difficult to achieve, a 147 break or a nine-darter?

Both sporting accomplishments require precision, talent, and bottle to achieve. A 147 break in snooker demands the player at the table to pot 36 balls consecutively, alternating between 15 reds and 15 blacks before clearing all the colours. A nine-darter, as the name of the feat suggests, is when a player throws nine perfect darts to finish a 501 leg, leaving no room for error.

The Case for the 147

Snooker is an intensely mental game, with players often roped into tactical safety battles where they attempt to leave the cue ball in as awkward a position for their opponent. As mentally draining as the safety side of the game of snooker can be, the attacking aspect demands just as much focus and accuracy, with the player not only looking to pot a ball but ensuring that the cue ball finishes in an inviting position for the next shot.

The best players in the world can navigate the table with surgical precision by cueing with the correct amount of spin and power, as well as calculating the precise angle. To achieve a 147 break, the player must pot each of the 15 red balls, whilst also ensuring they retain position on the black ball after every potted red. A multitude of factors can scupper a 147 attempt, such as the cue ball finishing out of position, the behaviour of the other balls on the table, as well as missing one of the required 36 pots.

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s 147 break at the 1997 World Snooker Championship is perhaps the most famous maximum break of them all, as it is the fastest achieved at a time of five minutes and eight seconds – averaging at roughly 8.8 seconds per shot. At the time of writing, there has been a total of 195 officially recognised 147 breaks.

The Case for the Nine-Darter

One of the main arguments made against the nine-darter being more difficult to achieve is that it requires *only* nine perfectly thrown darts, compared to 36 consecutive pots for the 147. While that is true, a nine-darter does not allow for the player to finish even just a millimetre out of position, whereas, on the snooker table, a player can potentially finish anywhere on the table and the attempt continues, so long as they can pot the next ball in the sequence.

There are 3,944 different ways to hit a nine-darter, though the most common method is by throwing consecutive 180s in the first two visits and checking out 141 by hitting treble-20, treble-19, and double-12 with the final three darts. It is possible to throw a nine-darter by scoring 167 in all three visits, hitting treble-20, treble-19, and bullseye.

Though darts players are not nearly as inhibited as snooker players are by other balls on the table, the positioning of previously thrown darts can make it awkward to hit the required targets. For example, with two darts having landed in the treble-20 bed, it reduces the available area for the player to hit, while there is also the potential for the flights and/or shafts to further block the intended target. In this instance, the player will either have to move along the oche, readjusting their shot, or switch to another target if this is an option – players will commonly aim for treble-19 instead of treble-20 when scoring if they feel too much of the target is blocked.

The first televised nine-darter was thrown by John Lowe at the 1984 World Matchplay. Phil Taylor is the only player to have thrown two nine-darters in the same match when he did so in the 2010 Premier League of Darts final against James Wade, missing a dart at a double for what would have been a third nine-dart finish. In the PDC, more than 400 nine-darters have been recorded across televised and floor tournaments.

Comparing the Two

Realistically, only someone who has achieved both these sporting feats can offer an informed opinion as to which is the most difficult. 2005 world snooker champion Shaun Murphy has notched up eight official 147 breaks and also claims to have thrown a nine-darter, making him more qualified than most on the subject. According to Murphy, a 147 break is more difficult than throwing a nine-darter.

Five-time world darts champion Raymond van Barneveld agrees with Murphy, believing snooker’s ultimate feat to be tougher than the nine-darter. The Dutchman claimed during a Eurosport feature with seven-time world snooker champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, who agreed with Van Barneveld.

In contrast, darts commentator and former professional Wayne Mardle believes the nine-darter to be more difficult. The former world semi-finalist stated in February 2023 that 14 nine-darters were hit from 34,167 legs of darts played at the PDC World Darts Championship between 1994 and 2023, averaging one per 2,440 legs, compared to 10 maximum breaks from 20,410 frames from the same timeframe at the World Snooker Championship, averaging at a more frequent rate of one in every 2,041 frames.

The reality is that no one definitively can prove whether one achievement is harder than the other. What is without a doubt, however, is that both a 147 and a nine-darter are hugely impressive feats and anyone capable of achieving them in their respective sports is incredibly talented and probably has a few trophies to show for it!

By Aaron Gratton

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