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.
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.