Scoring

Ten-pin bowling has a unique scoring system that can be complex for newcomers who try to score the game themselves. Because of the various multiplier effects and bonus roles that can be attained in the game, scoring is not always intuitive.

  • A player generally receives one point for every pin knocked down on each roll of a frame. For a pin to count, it must be knocked over entirely. If it wobbles but stays standing, or moves without being toppled over completely, it is still considered standing and a score is not awarded for that pin.
  • If a player knocked down seven pins on their first roll and one of the remaining three pins on their second, they would have a count of eight points for that frame. The number of pins knocked down in the frame is referred to as the “pinfall”.
  • A player who rolls a ball into the gutter or fails to knock down any pins will receive a zero for their roll.
  • In the event that pins are left standing at the end of the frame, it is referred to as an “open frame”.
  • The score for each frame is added up at the end of the game to give a cumulative total. The maximum score attainable is 300 (see below), while professional level bowling starts with scores of 200.

Scorecard

On the bowling scorecard, each frame is divided into two boxes in which the individual score from each delivery is recorded. The cumulative score after each frame is written underneath. The pinfall for each roll must be entered into the scorecard straight after the roll, and electronic scoreboards do so automatically. However, the current total cannot always be entered until the value of strikes and spares have been decided by subsequent shots (see below for further details).

  • If a player knocked down nine pins, they would mark down a “9”.
  • A strike is designated in the first box of the frame by an “X”.
  • A spare is marked down on the scorecard with a “/”.
  • A zero is recorded with a “-“.
  • Fouls are recorded with an “F” on the scorecard.
  • If the first roll of a frame results in a split, then this is usually recorded on the scorecard by enclosing the pinfall in parenthesis. For example if a player knocked down eight pins and was left with a 7-9 split on the second shot, the first box of the frame would be filled with “(8)”. See below for more information on splits.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
7 2 X 9 F 3 (8) / 7 / 8 1 4 5 X 6 /
9 28 37 40 57 75 84 93 100 120

Splits

A split is the name given to the pins left standing on the second ball in a frame if the head-pin (1-pin) was knocked down on the first delivery and either of the following two conditions are true:

  • The standing pins are separated by at least one fallen pin. For instance, if the 7-pin and 9-pin were left standing, there would be a 7-9 split. A 3-10 split is another example.
  • At least one pin is down immediately ahead of two or more standing pins, for instance a 5-6 split.

There are 459 possible split combinations in ten-pin bowling. Some of the more notable include:

  • Baby Split: 2-7 or 3-10
  • Bed Posts/Goal Posts: 7-10
  • Big Ears: 4-6-7-10
  • Christmas Tree: 2-7-10 or 3-7-10
  • Clothesline: Any group of four pins in a line, e.g. 1-3-6-10
  • Greek Church: Any split in which two pins remain standing on one side and three on the other. The 5-pin must be knocked down.
  • Lily/Sour Apple: 5-7-10
  • Poison Ivy: 3-6-10

The hardest shot in bowling is generally considered to be the 7-10 split, because the two remaining pins are at the furthest possible distance apart. It is extremely difficult to deliver the ball so that it hits the outside of one pin hard enough to deflect it into the other. This is particularly so because the pins are standing at the very edge of the lane and players who miscalculate their target line by even a few centimetres will end up rolling a gutter ball

Strikes

If a player knocks down all ten pins on their first roll, they are awarded a strike. When a strike is achieved, a player is given ten points for the ten downed pins, plus the total of their next two rolls. For this reason, the value of a strike is not known until the end of the next frame.

  1. Player rolls a strike on ball one of frame one (ten points awarded).
  2. Player knocks over five pins on ball one of frame two (five points awarded).
  3. Player knocks down two pins on ball two of frame two (two points awarded).
  4. Player earns an additional seven points (total from frame two) for the strike in frame one.
  5. The total pinfall for frame one is 17 (10 + 7).The total pinfall for frame two is 7 points.
  6. After two frames, the player has 24 points.
1 2 3
X 5 2
17 24

For larger points, players must score multiple strikes in a row. Two consecutive strikes are referred to as a “double”, while three strikes in a row are called a “triple”, or “turkey”. A perfect game (12 strikes) is referred to in the US as a “Thanksgiving Turkey”.

  1. Player rolls a strike on ball one of frame one (ten points awarded).
  2. Player rolls a strike on ball one of frame two (ten points awarded).
  3. Player rolls a 3 on ball one of frame three (three points awarded).
  4. Player receives 13 extra points for the two rolls after the first strike.
  5. Player rolls a 4 on ball two of frame three (four points awarded).
  6. Player receives seven extra points for the two rolls after the second strike.
  7. Total pinfall for frame one is 23 points, frame two pinfall is 17 points, frame three pinfall is 7 points.
  8. After three frames, player scores 47 points.
1 2 3
X X 3 4
23 40 47

If a player scored three strikes in a row, they would receive a total of 30 points for the first frame strikes. This is the largest number of points that can be scored in any one frame.

Spares

If a player knocks down all ten pins in a frame after two rolls, they are awarded with a spare, which earns the player ten points for the ten pins that have been knocked over as well as the score of the next ball.

  1. Player bowls a 6 on ball one of frame one (six points awarded).
  2. Player bowls a 4 on ball two of frame one (four points awarded).
  3. Player bowls a 7 on ball one of frame two (seven points awarded).
  4. Player awarded seven extra points for the roll after the spare.
  5. Player rolls a gutter ball on ball two of frame two (zero points awarded).
  6. The total pinfall for frame one is now 17 (6 + 4 + 7) while frame two is worth 7 points.
  7. After two frames, player scores 24.
1 2 3
6 / 7
17 24

Scoring consecutive spares works in the same way as strikes. In the example above, if the player had knocked over the remaining three pins in the second shot of frame two to secure a second spare, they would receive ten points for frame two, plus the score from the first shot of frame three as a bonus.

Extra frame

In the tenth and final frame, players who roll a strike or a spare will receive bonus shots. If a player rolls a strike on the first ball of frame ten, they will be entitled to two additional shots. If a player bowls a spare over two rolls in the tenth frame, they will be allowed to take one additional shot. If players roll either a strike or spare on the extra shots, they will only receive the points for pins knocked down. Therefore, in the final frame, the biggest score that can be attained with three consecutive strikes is 30 (10 + 10 + 10). If a player rolled a strike, then a spare on their two bonus shots, they would earn 20 points.

A perfect game score of 300, therefore, is made up of 12 consecutive strikes. In 2006, Elliot John Crosby became the youngest ever bowler in Britain to roll a perfect game, at the age of 12 years and two months.