Types of Tournaments



Bowling tournaments can be formatted a multitude of ways but, generally, tournaments fall into three parent categories: Regular, Moral Support, or Modified. No matter what the selected format is, all tournaments must follow USBC rules and lane requirements if the resulting scores are to be counted toward USBC competition. Some formats are used more or less by different leagues depending on what the league wants to accomplish. In this article you’ll learn more about some of the various formats and their benefits.

Regular Format

Regular tournaments consist of at least two or more teams, or two or more individual entrants participating as singles. To qualify for USBC certification, the entire tournament must be played in the same location so that all entrants face equal conditions. Conditions of lanes must follow the USBC guidelines for that particular year. Most bowling associations run tournaments in this traditional format. Generally speaking, the tournament will consist of both team events as well as doubles and/ or singles events. Each event requires teams or individuals to complete a three game match and winners are decided by overall pin fall. Some may be conducted through single or double elimination brackets.

Three game matches may also be used as qualifying rounds before the actual tournament. Tournament participants are often grouped into divisions based on their qualifying scores, in an effort to keep competition between bowlers of similar skill level.

Moral Support Format

Moral support formats are generally organized by charitable groups in order to provide some form of outreach to those within the group. In order to be considered a moral support format, tournament entrance is granted on a limited basis to affiliates of the supporting organization.

Groups that qualify for moral support formats include:

  • Civic groups
  • Fraternities or Sororities
  • Benevolent groups
  • Military Organizations
  • Unions
  • Religious Groups

Additionally, moral support tournaments must also meet all of the USBC requirements that Regular formats are subject to including any USBC player suspensions in affect. Players under suspension are not allowed to bowl in these tournaments even though they may be an affiliated member.

Modified Formats

These alternative formats allow for more social games and provide greater variety than the more traditional formats. Bowling centers will often elect to host tournaments with these varying formats to increase interest within their leagues. These formats, however, cannot be used in National Championship tournaments. The following are some examples of modified formats.

9-pin No tap and 8-pin No tap

In No Tap tournaments, bowlers must hit a designated number of pins (typically 8 or 9) or hit all 10 pins on the first ball to be scored a strike. Any other unspecified pin count is added as a normal value. Generally, you will always be required to strike the headpin to receive a strike for downed pins. This format allows for higher scoring games, which are usually more interesting.

3 – 6 – 9

When bowling under this format, all bowlers receive strikes in the 3rd, 6th, and 9th frames of the game. The act of giving strikes levels the playing field between all participants and builds confidence for bowlers who may have less skill. This format can also benefit those who are particularly good at picking up spares (but maybe less so at getting strikes), because the value of the free strike will apply to a spare occurring directly before or after the free frame. Another benefit is that the games are completed faster and players suffer less fatigue.

Baker Format

In this format, bowlers only roll two frames for each game, which produces a faster paced match. This format is especially popular with doubles tournaments as the games place more importance on team effort rather than an individual’s ability. In some Baker tournaments, teams are made up of five players and members will follow immediately after each other in a single game. This is illustrated below.

Example of Baker format. Image created by C Gideon. 







One of the major benefits to the Baker format is the team work that is inherently needed for the team to progress and win. This provides a lot of motivation for individuals to get better for the greater good of the team. Teams must work well together both in play, and in preparation. For instance, teams must decide who is going bowl the 10th frame which allows for three ball deliveries in the event of strikes.

Scotch Doubles

Scotch doubles, like the baker format, forces teams to work together more closely. This format is popular for pairs, such as father-son, mother-daughter, couples, siblings, etc. Unlike the Baker format, in scotch doubles each player bowls half of each frame in a single game, and will complete matches consisting of three games. Bowler 1 will bowl the first ball of each frame and Bowler 2 will bowl whatever pins the first ball left standing. If Bowler 1 strikes, he or she will continue straight into the first ball of the next frame and, theoretically, could finish an entire game without their partner ever needing to deliver a ball. To ensure both partners have a chance to play, Bowler 2 in the first game becomes Bowler 1 in the second game and bowls the first ball.

Scotch Doubles
Example of Scotch Doubles; only first 2 frames shown. Created by C Gideon

Best Ball

Similar to Scotch Doubles, Best Ball is scored exactly the way it sounds. Both bowlers will bowl a single ball and the roll with the better pin count is the only one counted in the team score. The exception is the 10th frame in which each bowler is given the number of ball rolls normally required in a traditional game. This method requires that the pins be completely reset after every ball roll.


This format is typically used in tournaments after a traditional format has been completed. This format relies on “seeding” in which a designated number of “top seeds” are chosen and will compete against one another for the final winner title. Seeding is usually determined by initial qualifying status and overall tournament pin fall. The lowest seed will play the next lowest seed and the winner of that game will play the next seed, until one player has either made it up the “ladder” or the first seeded player beats their final opponent. One disadvantage to this format is that lower seeds must play more games to ‘climb’ the ladder, while the top seed must only win one game.

For example:



Additional Information on tournaments can be found at:

Types of Tournaments by USBC (pdf)

Frequently Asked Questions PBA


Bowling Form

Introduction to Bowling Form

Bowling Style, or form, refers to the way a bowler delivers the bowling ball. Delivery can be smooth and slow or rough and fast, as well as any variation in between. Styles are generally classified into four categories: Stroking, Cranking, Tweening, and Spinning. Learning about these styles, what they are and how they are used, can be beneficial to a player who is still developing their game. By the end of this article you should have a solid understanding of each of these categories and some of the other variations that make up bowling style.

Bowling Objectively

There are many styles that can be used in a conventional bowling form. However, all of the styles seek to achieve a strike. A strike in bowling is a specific method of knocking down all of the pins on the first ball and utilizes the 1-3 pocket (for more information on pockets, see our article on aiming.) A legal roll of the bowling ball will enter the 1-3 pocket, and continues to roll through the 5 and 9 pins. This type of roll is used in all of the bowling styles.

Note that this is not the only way to achieve a strike and the goal of every bowler is to achieve a strike using the method that generates the highest strike percentage for them. The various forms use different wrist, hand, and body positions to do different things such as getting strikes, picking up spares, or in some cases just to show off.


The most basic form is called stroking, and bowlers who fall into this category are called “strokers.” The most used style in professional bowling leagues, stroking is considered the classic form. A stroker releases the bowling ball smoothly and generally produces less than 300 rpm, or 17 mph.

To ‘stroke’:

  1. Keep your shoulders square to the foul line
  2. Keep your backswing low (almost parallel to the floor)

This reduces the ball’s potential energy but gives a smoother release and better accuracy. This type of release also reduces a bowler’s ability to ‘hook the ball’ but “modern reactive resin bowling balls now allow strokers to hit the 1-3 pocket at a relatively high angle” (Wiki). For more information on these reactive resin balls, visit the article on Types of Balls. The major benefit of this style is that it has the highest rate of repeatable and accurate shots.


Another bowling form is “cranking” and those who use this style are often called “crankers.”  The style uses strength and rotation on the ball to ‘hook’ into the pins and strike. This style can produce speeds over 370 rpm, or 19mph, and relies heavily on brute force. In fact, a bowler can have poor aim and still bowl strikes if they can put enough energy into the ball. Bowlers use higher back swings that sometimes come up level with the bowler’s chin to give the ball extra speed. Max revs are achieved by quickly going from cupped to un-cupped and “snapping the wrist” at the release.  But be warned, it can also lead to ‘late’ timing (see Footwork for more information about Late and Early timing issues) which can immediately reduce all the energy you put into the ball on the backswing. If you find yourself being pulled forward at the foul line by the ball, you’ll need to practice your footwork in addition to your form.

Cranking can be difficult and takes a lot of practice. One problem that often arises with this bowling style is pain in the wrist and forearm. Some Crankers, who do not have a strong enough wrist to cradle the ball, will feel the need to ‘muscle’ the ball with their upper body. They may even bend their elbow, which puts more stress on the upper arm. This can also be caused by focusing too much on the snapping motion itself, which can reduce revs because it slows the release down. To do it properly, the act of un-cupping should happen in a split second and is almost imperceptible when done by skilled, professional bowlers. This can be helped by practicing one-step drills and holding the weight with your free hand before the swing reaches its full extension.

The backswing of a cranker roll progresses as follows:

  1. Wrist cupped and cocked with fingers towards the inside of the ball (the left side.)
  2. On the down swing, when the ball is about even with your hip allow the wrist to start rotating to the right.
  3. Let your arm accelerate through the shot.
  4. Let go by un-cupping. Your hand should go quickly from underneath the ball to the top of the ball.

One advantage not present in Stroking is that Cranking allows bowlers to utilize “hook.” Depending on the bowling ball, lane condition (see Oil Patterns,) and the individual bowler’s ability, the ball may exhibit either a rounded hook pattern that takes place down the majority of the lane, or a late hook that occurs just a few feet away from the pins. The late hook is particularly fun to watch, which is why many spectators prefer to watch Crankers rather than Strokers.

One disadvantage to the style is that bowlers are more prone to leave pins on the boards and be unable to pick up the spare. Note: there have been many successful, professional “Crankers” who were known for being able to pick up spares. Again, practice is key.

For some more information on Cranking visit:




Tweening is considered the in-between of Stroking and Cranking. Bowlers that deliver the ball in a manner falling somewhere in between these other styles, have rev rates between 300 and 370 rpm, or 17 to 19 mph. This modified delivery uses a higher backswing than normally employed by a Stroker and a less powerful wrist position than a Cranker. If you find that your wrist is easily tired or sore from trying the Cranking Style, you may consider using this less wrist heavy style. You’ll also find that adjusting your backswing and wrist action to follow a more Stroke-like approach can help you recover some of the accuracy lost by cranking.


Also known as helicopter or UFO, Spinning is a style that is used mainly in Asia and is considered a “trick shot” rather than a reliable form. Regardless of what you call it, “a spinner releases a ball such that it is rotating along a horizontal axis (the x-axis) in a counter clockwise motion (right-hander) as it moves down the lane” (Wiki). It literally spins like helicopter blades. Spinning is a popular style in Asia because lanes are oiled from the foul line all the way to the pin rack. As you will learn from Oil Patterns, oil prevents the ball from finding fiction. In order to hook, the ball needs opposing friction. In spinning, very little of the ball’s surface touches the lane so it is not affected by the lack of friction.

The objective in spinning is to depend more on pin deflection, or in other words a domino effect. The 1-pin hits the 2-4-7, the 3-pin hits the 5-8 the 6-pin hits the 9, and the ball eventually hits the 10-pin alone.

For the purposes of improving your bowling, we do not recommend using this style as it puts additional stress on the wrist, elbow, and shoulder. The chances of injury are greater with this style of bowling. In addition, if you are bowling in a traditionally oiled alley where the lane has a dry element, you’ll find that spinning loses all advantage.


Other bowling forms

Thumb Delivery

No-thumb delivery

This method involves inserting only two fingers into the bowling ball, leaving the thumb on the outside. This can help a bowler create greater hook but can lead bowlers to ‘muscle’ the ball down the lane. Pros to this style are that it can allow for straighter shots, which in turn gives higher accuracy when done consistently. A Con to this style is that because you are removing one of the supporting elements (your thumb,) you won’t be able to bowl with a heavier ball and using a lighter ball can reduce the pin deflection and power in the final release.

Half-thumb delivery

This delivery is very similar to No-thumb as it removes one of the principle supports to carry the weight of the ball during the approach and backswing. However, using partial thumb contact allows the bowler to still maintain some control over spin in the final release.


Two-Handed Approach

The two handed approach is as it sounds. The dominant hand holds the ball with the appropriate fingers in the grips and the other hand rests on top of the ball. This gives the bowler greater support of the weight of the ball and for increased power in the dominant hand. The open hand leaves the ball the same time as the dominant one. This can also aid bowlers in creating spin on the bowling ball, but requires the bowler to rotate their shoulders more during the approach.

This technique can also being used with the No-thumb delivery.

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In general terms, footwork refers to the way in which a bowler approaches the foul line in order to throw the ball down the lane. While it may seem a pretty straight forward task, footwork plays a very important role in bowling a consistent and high scoring game. This article aims to improve your footwork by explaining in detail the major concepts behind reaching consistent and effective methods of approach.


At the highest levels, bowlers will manipulate ball speed, axis rotation, and other elements related to the transfer of energy to the bowling ball. At the average level, league bowlers will also slightly modify elements of their game with varying degrees of effectiveness. In either case, the bowler’s ability to adapt the transfer of energy to the bowling ball depends first on the ability to generate that energy. Since your legs account for more than 50 percent of your power, it’s a very important part of improving your game.

Initial Stance:

Your initial stance should provide you with the groundwork for completing an effective approach. First, there are four main stances that bowlers generally use. The following is an adapted list from Tyrel Rose that breaks down these categories:

  1. Parallel- this places the feet shoulder-width apart and directly parallel to one another.
  2. Staggered Apart- placing the right or left foot (depending on dominance) slightly back in relation to the other. Like the parallel stance, the feet remain roughly shoulder-width apart.
  3. Staggered Together- The right or left foot is moved slightly back in relation to the other foot but the distance between feet is significantly shorter.
  4. Perpendicular – The dominant foot faces straight out while the other foot is brought at an angle behind the first creating what resembles an italicized “T.”


Tyrel Rose also explains in Bowling This Month why these stances are generally bad. He states “most beginners will start with a parallel foot alignment and (Position 1). This usually doesn’t lead to a good approach as no one actually walks with their feet shoulder-width apart and the first step forward will be immediately spent bringing the feet together to correct the odd initial distance. The same is true for Position 2. Having this position with the feet too far apart slows your approach because, once you start walking, one foot or the other will have to go diagonally toward the other one to close the distance.”

Position 4 is also generally a bad stance for several reasons. First, the position of the feet is generally not firm because players typically put all their weight on the back of their forward heel, leaving their back foot on the ball of the foot and their back heel in the air. For an effective stance, both heels should be on the floor. Second, your hips are more open not aligned with your shoulders and caused a twist in your spine. You should only rotate your spine during the back swing. Third, your back foot must travel around the lead foot when it starts to move and that foot ends up traveling a greater distance, which will change the distance it takes you to approach.


The minimum total length required for a regulation size bowling alley is 86′-6″. This includes the 16′ foot approach and 60 foot lane. The remainder of the space is made up of the pinsetter and service alley located behind the pinsetter. This means you have a 16 foot distance in which to complete your approach. Most people approach like this: Walk three steps in a straight line, then slide directly in line with the preceding step. You start your steps on the right foot for right-handers and end with your right foot behind your left. If you have a lower stride length you may need to adjust the number of steps you take or the distance from which you begin your approach. If you have a longer Stride Length, you may need to decrease the number of steps or start farther back.

Additionally, some bowling experts believe that the last step in your approach should be the longest while others believe it is the first step that should be the longest. Practice with both to see which provides you with the best results.


No matter what your initial stance or the number of steps you take to complete your approach, the number one rule to remember is to be consistent. Doing the same thing every time provides you with enough information to accurately identify whether or not that method is helping or hindering your game. Once you’ve found a stance and approach that are comfortable and work for you, the key is to practice that over and over until the method becomes muscle memory. Then, when you are faced with difficult splits, spares, or oil patterns you’ll be able to put more focus into the actual problem.

Direction and Drift:

The direction in which you walk and your ability to combat drift is also an important area of the bowling approach. But in order to understand drift, you need to know what the dots and arrows on the boards mean. First of all, the boards are about one inch wide and there are 39 of them from the edge of each gutter. The boards are thus centered on board #20. The boards are number right-to-left and left-to-right in order to support both left and right handed bowlers. If you look at lane close up, there will either be five dots on the deck or seven (that difference depends on which lane manufacture built your bowling center and to some extent when it was done). The distance between each of these dots is five boards, and therefore, five inches apart. The dots thus mark boards numbered 10, 15, 25, and 30 (or also 5 and 35). At the foul line, the same dots usually appear on the same boards. The dot on board #20 is sometimes slightly larger, making it easier to find your place.

If you start on board 20 and slide on board 19 every single time, you are not necessarily drifting. You are simply not walking straight. Drifting is considered any major movement across the boards that prevents you from delivering the ball cleanly. The worst thing you can do is walk to the right (drifting.) Walking right (for righties) is inefficient because it disrupts your backswing and forces you to move the ball around your leg (and body) to send it down the lane in the right direction. You’re more likely to gutter ball if you swing the ball around your body and release on the angle it produces. Additionally, you won’t have control over your hook or when dealing with difficult oil patterns. For lefties, these directions are reversed.


You will also want to take in to account the amount of power you need to put into the ball. Being able to control the amount of force or energy you are able to put into the ball before you throw it can help achieve a better score. While much of timing has more to do with your back swing, having consistent rhythm between the movement of the ball and your footwork is important. If you are taking steps faster than you are able to draw back the ball and swing it forward, you have what is considered Late Timing. This causes you to lose forward momentum because your body has stops at the foul line before you have completed your swing. On the other hand, starting the draw back on the ball before your begin taking steps will cause you to have to take faster steps to catch up with the ball. This is known as Early Timing. Taking more or fewer steps can also help you maintain a consistent timing in which the ball and your feet are moving together in a way that puts the most energy into the ball as it is released.

Other Mechanics to Approach:

Knee continuation is the action where the knee continues to move forward after the foot has come to a stop in the slide. This allows the bowler to maintain more stability and also improves the power flow from the feet to the upper body when transferring energy to the ball.

Also, a bowler’s power should be derived more from their legs than their arms, as the leg muscles are much larger and stronger. Many bowlers try to use their arm muscles to produce speed and this is not as effective.

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Calculating Bowling Score and Handicap

When you go to a bowling alley today, it is almost guaranteed that your score will be tracked automatically with an electronic score keeper. However, it is important to know how scoring occurs in bowling because: (1) the scorekeeper could be faulty and you need to be able to detect it if that is the case, (2) the bowling alley you are at does not have an electronic score keeper, or (3) you want to determine how you need to perform to catch up with and/or defeat your opponent.

There is another caveat important in bowling score which is called handicap. This is primarily used in leagues, both competitive and non-competitive, to give individuals a chance of winning the match others who may be more experienced than them. Scroll down to our section on handicaps for more information about this additional scoring detail.


Bowling Score

Each bowling game consists of ten frames. There are a few different situations that can occur in a frame:

Open frame: A frame in which the bowler does not get a strike or spare.

In an open frame, the player’s score will increase by the number of pins he or she knocked over.

For example: Dave knocked over 7 pins in the first shot and 2 pins in the second shot of a frame. For that frame, Dave would receive 9 points (7+2).

Spare: A frame in which the bowler knocks all of the pins down, but does so with both shots of a turn. This is depicted as a slash mark on the score sheet or screen.

You give NO points after a frame with a spare. Instead, you wait until the first shot of the next frame. The points for the frame that had the spare will then be marked as 10 plus the number of pins knocked down in the first shot after the spare was scored.

For example: Lauren gets a spare in her third frame of the game. In the first shot of her fourth frame, she knocks down 4 pins. In the second shot of her fourth frame, she knocks down 3 pins. The score for her third frame will be a 14 (10+4). The score for her fourth frame (unaffected by the frame in which she got a spare) would be 7 (4+3).

Strike: A frame in which the bowler knocks all of the pins down with the first shot of a turn. This is depicted as an “X” on the score sheet or screen.

You give NO points after a frame with a strike. Instead, you wait until the second shot of the next frame. The points for the frame that had the strike will then be marked as 10 plus the number of pins knocked down in the two shots of the frame after the spare was scored.

For example: Jason gets a strike in his third frame of the game. In the first shot of his fourth frame, he knocks down 7 pins. In the second shot of his fourth frame, he knocks down 1 pin. The score for his third frame will be an 18 (10+7+1). The score for his fourth frame (unaffected by the frame in which he got a strike) would be 8 (7+1).



Handicaps allow less experienced bowlers to have a chance against more experienced bowlers and is very common in leagues and tournaments. There are two pieces of information you will need to get from the officials at the tournament or league you are competing in: basis score and percentage factor.

Basic score: Usually the way the league or tournament calculates this is by obtaining the highest average bowling score in the league or tournament and then increasing that number by a bit. This new number is the basis score and will typically end with a zero (i.e. 210).

Percentage factor: This is used along with the basis score to calculate handicap. It will usually be a flat percentage such as 70% or 80%.

How to calculate your handicap:

  • Calculate your average bowling score (see the article on this in our website).
  • Subtract your average bowling score from the basis score
  • Multiply the result of step 2 by the percentage factor
  • The number that results from step 3 is your handicap

Example: A league’s basis score and percentage factor are 190 and 80%, respectively.

  • Average bowling score: 160.
  • Subtract your average bowling score from the basis score: 190 – 160 = 30
  • Multiply the result of step 2 by the percentage factor: 30 x 0.80 = 24
  • Handicap: 24

What to do with your handicap: This number should be added straight to the score you receive in a match. That score can then be compared to the other people that were bowling on your lane to determine who won.