Bowling Rules: A Beginner’s Guide

Have you gone bowling but never understood the rules of the game? What is a strike, spare and why do they add up differently? This article will help you answer those questions and learn the basics of bowling. There are a variety of styles of bowling (duckpin, target and nine-pin bowling). However, the style in this article is ten-pin bowling. Furthermore, it highlights recreational play and not tournament style.

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    How is the Game Set Up?

    There are ten pins and they are organized in a triangle shape at the other end of the bowling lane. A bowling lane is usually 60 feet (ft) long and 3.5 ft wide and the first 15 ft between the foul line and the edge of the lane is the approach. Similar to the triple jump or long jump in track and field, each bowler will find a place to mark a spot that will allow them to maximize the most momentum until the foul line. The two most common approaches are the four step and five step approach.

    What Are The Bowling Rules On A Foul?

    If a bowler touches the foul line during their approach, a foul occurs. Depending on the rules of recreational play, there is normally no penalty assigned but the amount of pins knocked down will be circled on the scorecard to indicate a foul occurred on the bowl.

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    What Are The Phases Of a Bowling Game? How Do You Score In Bowling?

    The goal of bowling is to score the most points by knocking down pins within 10 frames. A bowler has two opportunities to knock all 10 pins during each frame (except the 10th frame). If a bowler knocks all of the pins down on their first bowl, it is a strike and their turn is over because they achieved the maximum amount of points for that frame. If a bowler does not knock down all of the pins on the first bowl but knocks down all 10 pins on their second bowl, this is a spare. Despite both actions achieving the maximum points for that frame, they score differently in the next frame and can have a huge impact on the score. This will be in more detail in an example later in this article.

    The only frame that works differently in ten-pin bowling is the 10th frame. If a bowler does not knock down all 10 pins within two attempts during the frame, the frame ends similar to the other 9 frames and the game is over for the bowler. However, if the bowler bowls a strike on their first bowl, they will get two more opportunities to knock down as many pins as possible. Also, if a bowler knocks down all 10 pins by his second bowl to achieve a spare, they will get one more opportunity to knock down as many pins as they can. The maximum amount of bowls that can occur in the 10th frame is 3. The maximum score for this frame is 30 points and this happens by bowling a turkey, which is three strikes in a row.

    Photo by Todd Diemer on Unsplash

    That’s cool that we figured out how to score the 10th frame but there are 9 other frames and they seem to do some voodoo math depending on if I get a spare or a strike. Do not worry… we got you covered.

    If a frame does not contain a spare or a strike, then you add up the numbers from the two attempts in a frame and that is the total amount of points for the frame.

    Now, if a strike occurs in a frame, the points of the frame will be a minimum of 10 points plus the total points of the next two bowls regardless of the frame.

    Finally, if a spare occurs in a frame, the points of the frame will be a minimum of 10 points plus the total points of the next bowl in the next frame.

    The maximum amount of points scored in a bowling game is 300 points. If you recall earlier, we showed that the maximum amount of points scored in the 10th frame is 30 points and this is the same for the other 9 frames as well.


    Great job making it through. Now you can explain to others what a turkey is other than the one eaten on Thanksgiving. Don’t worry if you deliver a gutter ball your first time sharing your newfound knowledge with others. We are always here for a refresher about ten-pin bowling rules. If you enjoyed this article, feel free to share it and check out the other sports on this site.