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Bowling: The Rules of the Game

Updated on May 23, 2015

Often referred to as “bowling”, ten pin bowling is a fun and entertaining sport where a ball is rolled down a lane towards a setup of ten pins with the objective being to knock down as many pins as possible. The winner is the individual who scores the highest number of points amongst all the players.

Bowling Area and Setup

The playing area is a long narrow lane that is 18.29m x 1.05m in size. Ten pins are arranged in a triangular pattern of four rows at the end of the lane with one pin in the front row, two in the second row, three in the third row and four in the fourth row. A gutter lines both sides of the lane and serves as an obstacle that may prevent the bowling ball from reaching the pins.

There is a “run up” leading up to the lane that players utilise to help them gain momentum before releasing the bowling ball onto the lane. A “foul line” divides the run up from the bowling lane. Bowlers must ensure they do not cross the foul line or they will incur a penalty.

The Frames

A game of ten pin bowling has ten frames. For the first nine frames, bowlers are given two opportunities to knock down all the pins in a frame. In other words, they have two opportunities to bowl the ball down the lane. If a strike is scored, all the pins are knocked down during the first delivery, the turn goes to the next player. In the tenth frame, the bowler is given the opportunity to bowl three balls if a strike or spare is scored. Each player takes it in turns to deliver the bowling ball twice for each frame in a sequential order until all ten frames have been played.

The Bowling Ball

The bowling ball must be weigh no more than 16 pounds and be no larger than 8.5 inches in diameter. While there is no lower limit to how light a ball may be, the lightest ball used is the 6 pound ball. This ball is usually used by children and elderly individuals with back injuries.

The Pins

There are regulations and guidelines for pin size, weight and weight distribution.


Every pin that is successfully knocked down during a delivery is counted as one point. The total number of pins knocked down is recorded for each delivery, unless a strike is scored. When a bowler bowls a strike, an "x" is marked down on the score sheet. Therefore if a bowler knocks down 4 pins with the first delivery and 3 pins with the second delivery, the score sheet will show 4, 3. The total number of pins knocked down during a frame is then added to the score total for that bowler.

Gutter Ball

A gutter ball is a ball that has fallen into the gutter before reaching the pins. The score is marked on the score sheet as a “-“.

A Spare

A spare occurs when a bowler succeeds in knocking down all the pins within a frame. For instance, a bowler that knocks down 8 pins with the first delivery and 2 pins with the second delivery has a spare. A spare is denoted on the score sheet with a “/”. The number of points earned for a spare is 10 plus the number of pins knocked down during the bowler's first delivery in the following frame.

A Strike

A strike is when a bowler succeeds in knocking down all the pins with the first delivery of the ball in a frame. Strikes are the denoted on the score sheet with an “x”. The score earned for a strike is 10 plus the total number of pins knocked down during the bowler’s following frame.

If a bowler achieves two consecutive strikes, it is called a “double”. The number of points earned for the first strike is 20 plus the number of pins knocked down with the first delivery of the ball following the second strike.

Three consecutive strikes is called a “triple” or a turkey. The number of points earned for the first strike is 30.

The maximum score in ten pin bowling is 300. A player must bowl 12 strikes in succession to achieve this score.

Further details on ten pin bowling scoring can be found in the article “How to Keep Score in Ten Pin Bowling”.

A Split

A split occurs when a player fails to knock down all ten pins in a frame after the first delivery and two or more remaining pins are separated by a gap of at least one pin.


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