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Tenpin Bowling

Updated on February 29, 2012

The lure of tenpin bowling is its apparent simplicity: even a novice can score a strike. The therapeutic value of heaving the ball down the lane to smash into the pins has made the game an almost universal anodyne for the stresses of the modern world. Technology has been enlisted to make this game both simple and complex. Automatic machines set up the pins after each person has bowled, clean the balls and return them to the bowler, detect feet that creep over the foul line, and project scores onto a screen so that spectators can follow a game easily.

Richard Nixon, president of the United States, was said to be a regular on the lanes in the basement of the White House. In Tokyo, the world's largest tenpin emporium has 258 lanes situated in a nine-storey building. World championships are organized by the Federation Internationale des Quilleurs every four years.

Bowling of one kind or another is as old as history, and objects for a game similar to bowling were discovered in an Egyptian child's tomb dating from 5200 B.C.

The ancient Polynesians played a bowling-type game- Uta Maikausing small elliptical balls and round, flat discs of stone. The roots of tenpin bowling, however, go back directly to the region of Germany in the third or fourth century A.D. The peasants carried clubs called kegels, and they would set these clubs up in the cloisters of churches and bowl large round stones at them. The kegel was said to represent the heathen, and a hit was praised, while a miss meant that more religious devotion on the part of the bowler was required.

In time the priests themselves began to play, and in the Middle Ages kegelspiele was very popular in Germany. The game spread, and in 1365 Edward III of England was forced to forbid the game lest it interfere with more martial activities. But the game was too popular, and in various forms it survived. The pins varied in number from 3 to 15, the balls in size and weight, and the distance from foul line to the pins varied as well. A form of tenpin bowling on a triangular base was played outdoors in Essex in the early 19th century.

Dutch migrants took bowling to the United States, and by the 1820s ninepins was a flourishing pastime in New York City. But later this game was banned because the alleys were the scene of much illicit gambling. To circumvent the law an extra pin was added and the pins rearranged into a triangle. This new form of bowling quickly became the dominant variety in America.

In 1895, the American Bowling Congress was formed and standardized the sport; by 1971 it had four million members. Tenpin was largely a male preserve until 1916, when the Women's International Bowling Congress was started. Large numbers of women took up the game, but the revolution which made a minority pastime into a major sport was yet to come.

This revolution began in the 1950s. Automatic pinspotters eliminated pin boys (boys employed to reset the pins), speeded up play, and ushered in the era of modern, air-conditioned lanes which, in some places, stay open all night. Manufacturers saw the possibilities in the sport, and in 1959 the pinspotter was exported to Britain. Coupled with ┬Ěthe automation came changes in environment.

The alleys were brightened up, with bars and spectator accommodation available.

The essence of tenpin bowling is competition, and this is organized at all levels. In the United States, the game is professional at almost every level, but elsewhere it is amateur. Competitions are normally for individuals, two-man teams, and five-man teams, and all-events (a combination of those three). For the not-so-expert, handicaps ensure that competitions remain interesting. A tenpin bowler, it is said, never retires: he just steps down in class.

How the Game is Played

Tenpin bowling, the basic object of which is to knock down all 10 pins, is played on an alley or lane of maple and pine boards. The pins, numbered from 1 to 10, and 15 inches high, are automatically set on spots with in a 36-inch triangle at the far end of the alley.

The distance over which the ball is bowled, from the foul line to the head pin (No. 1) is 60 feet, and the alley is approximately 42 inches wide. On either side of the alley are shallow grooves, called gutters, and on the alley itself there are two sets of guides spots-7 feet and 13-16 feet beyond the foul line to help the bowler aim. Behind the foul line is an approach area of roughly 15 feet.

The ball, made of hard rubber, is 27 inches in circumference, and has three finger holes in it. Most bowlers use the three-finger grip: thumb, middle finger, and ring finger- but some prefer the two-finger grip using the thumb and middle fingers. The thumb and fingers should slip into the holes to the second knuckle.

A bowling game consists of 10 frames, each bowler rolling his ball twice in each frame unless he scores a strike. Then he forgoes his second bowl. Games can be played as singles, doubles, or between teams of up to five players. The result can be determined either by the total pins scored or by the number of games won or lost.

A game is won by the player with the highest score at the end of the 10 frames . A strike, the knocking down of all 10 pins with the first ball of a frame, is worth 10 pins, plus a bonus- the pins gained from his next two bowls.

If the bowler knocks all the pins down with his two bowls in a frame, he scores a spare, which is also worth 10 pins but has a bonus only the value of his next bowl. If neither a strike nor a spare is scored, only those pins knocked down count. If no pins at all are knocked down in a frame, the bowler scores an error.

A perfect game brings a score of 300, and comes from 12 consecutive strikes (one strike for each frame) plus 20 bonus points per frame (a strike on the last-10th-frame wins a player two more turns in which to score his bonus points hence the total of 12 strikes).

Though the method of bowling differs from person to person, the majority of bowlers use the four-step delivery. The bowler starts about 12 feet from the foul line, and, if right-handed, he steps forward on the right foot, pushing the ball forward and down does so. On the next step he swings the ball back behind him, and his left arm comes forward to maintain balance. The ball reaches the end of its backswing (about shoulder height) on the third step, and as the final step, with the left foot, brings the bowler up to the foul line the ball is released and the arm follows through smoothly.

If the bowler touches or crosses the foul line when delivering his bowl, an automatic device or a foul judge signals, and the ball is illegal. If the foul is committed on the first ball, all pins must be reset and the bowler is entitled to a second ball. Should he knock all the pins down with that ball, however, he scores only a spare, not a strike. If he fouls on the second ball, he scores only the number of pins knocked down by the first.

The bowler aiming for a strike aims for the s trike pocket, the space between the No. 1 and No. 3 pins (or No. l and No. 2 pins if he is left-handed). The ball itself hits only three or four pins, which in turn knock down the remaining pins. The bowler can choose between two methods of aiming- pin-bowling or spot-bowling. In the former he keeps his eyes on the pins throughout his approach and delivery; in the latter he chooses a spot on the alley that the ball must pass over to hit the pins correctly, and he aims at that spot instead, lining up his right shoulder with the spot and the strike pocket.

Spot-bowling has a number of advocates who reason that it is easier to hit a spot say 14 or 15 feet away than one 60 feet away.

Bowlers throw one of three types of ball-the straight ball, the hook ball, and the curve ball. Because it is the easiest to throw accurately, the straight ball is the best for the beginner. The hook ball rolls down the side of the alley and then turns in sharply towards the pins. The curve ball is rather like an exaggerated hook, following a wider arc than the hook, but its angle gives it a greater range of impact among the pins. For both the hook and the curve balls, the bowler twists his wrist as the ball leaves his hand.

Not every bowler scores a strike every time, however, and consequently he is going to be left with a number of pins remaining, which are known as splits if they are not grouped together. The removal of the splits shows the difference between the average bowler and the skilful one, for the latter will carefully calculate the positions instead of bowling and hoping.


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    • one2get2no profile image

      Philip Cooper 

      6 years ago from Olney

      Superb hub. I really enjoy ten pin bowling and yes it is very therapeutic. Thank you.


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