(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)
Scoring in ten pin bowling isn’t quite as easy as counting the pins knocked over on each shot and adding them up. If all pins are knocked over with one ball (a strike), the pinfall for the next two deliveries is added to the strike as a bonus. Where all the pins are felled with two shots, the pins knocked over with the following ball count as the bonus. With automated scoring systems since the 1980s, social bowlers no longer have to know how to score, as it’s done for them. However, in league and tournament play, a bowler must know how many pins have to be knocked down to beat the opposition, and knowing how to score is essential.
A game of ten pin bowling consists of ten parts or frames. A player has two opportunities to knock the pins down in each frame. If the bowler knocks all pins down with one ball, this is a strike (denoted by an X), and the bowler has completed this frame. If any pins are left standing after the first ball, the player has a second chance of knocking down the remaining pin or pins. If the remaining spins are knocked down with this second ball, the bowler is awarded a spare (denoted by a /). The next player or team member then has their turn, and so on, until everyone has bowled their first frame. The lead bowler then starts their second frame.
Each pin knocked over counts for one point. If a player bowls down six pins with the first ball and then another two with the second ball, they score eight for that frame. Where any pins are left standing after two deliveries, this is an open frame, and remaining pins are swept away by the sweep attached to the pinsetting machine. Thus if no strikes or spares are scored in a game, quite common among social bowlers, then the final score for the game is simply the sum of the number of pins knocked over in each frame. The highest possible score without strikes or spares is 90.
As soon as the player bowls a strike or spare, scoring becomes a little more complex. If a bowler gets a strike, i.e. knocks over all pins in one ball, this counts initially as ten, but the player has to wait until they have bowled their next two balls before the score for the frame containing the strike can be tallied up and finalized. This is due to the bonus points awarded for the next two balls after a strike. Thus if a bowler gets a strike in the first frame and follows this up with eight pins and one pin in the second frame, these two scores are added to the value of the strike, i.e. ten pins, for a total of 19 pins in the first frame. In the second frame, this bowler has knocked over nine more pins, so their score in the second frame is 28 (19 from the first frame plus 9 from the second frame).
Remember that whenever a strike is scored, the pins knocked down with the next two bowls by that player are added to the ten pins for the strike. This means that if the bowler follows a strike with a spare (say seven and three, or any other combination for that matter), their score for the first frame is 20, i.e. 10 + 7 + 3. If the player bowls another strike in the second frame to follow their strike in the first frame, the score for the first frame cannot be finalized until this bowler plays their first ball of the third frame. If this is a six, then the player’s score in the first frame is 26, i.e. 10 + 10 + 6. They might score three with their second ball of the third frame. In this case, their score in the second frame is 45, i.e. adding 26 from the first frame to the 19 they earn in the second frame, which comes from their strike in the second frame plus their next two deliveries, being a six and three in the third frame. Their third frame score is 54, or 45 from the second frame plus their total of nine in the third frame itself.
Where a bowler keeps bowling strikes, their score will go up by 30 pins each frame, i.e. ten for the initial strike and another ten for each of their next two shots. Two strikes in a row is a double and three in a row is called a ‘turkey’. After that, a string of strikes is referred to as a four-bagger or five-bagger and so on, or simply four in a row, five in a row, etc. If a player starts a game with, say, five strikes, this is referred to as the ‘front five’ or ‘first five’. Similarly, at the end of a game, if a bowler finishes with, say, seven strikes, this is called the ‘back seven’ or ‘last seven’. Where a player finishes a game with, say, six strikes, and starts the next game with four strikes, this person is said to have the ‘back six and first four’ or ‘last six and first four’.
You will see plenty of strikes strung at Professional Bowlers Association events and on television tournaments. A perfect game of 300 is achieved when a bowler scores 12 strikes in a row. Because of the bonus scoring system, a strike in the tenth frame requires two more balls to be bowled. If these are strikes, and the bowler has struck in all other frames, a 300 is the result. Until around 1980, these used to be rarer than a hole in one at golf. With the modern reactive bowling balls, 300 games are now quite common. There are probably quite a few of them bowled on any day somewhere in the US. If you go to a PBA tournament, chances are you’ll see one or two or even more 300s.
While the next two shots count as bonuses after a strike, a bowler gets one bonus ball added to their score after a spare. Say if a player knocks down seven pins with their first delivery and then bowls over the remaining three pins with their second delivery in a frame, whatever the player knocks down with their next ball is added to the ten they knocked over in the preceding frame. Thus if the bowler gets a spare in the first frame and then eight with their first ball of the second frame, their score in the first frame is 18, i.e. 10 + 8. Should the player knock over only one of the two remaining pins in the second frame, their score for that frame will be 27, i.e. 18 from the first frame plus a total of nine in the second frame.
A game will usually include strikes, spares and misses. The important things to remember are to add the following two balls to the score after a strike and one ball after a spare, and that the bonus pins knocked down after a strike or spare also count towards the current frame or frames. Let’s imagine a game with the following frame by frame results: 6/, X, 8/, 7 2, 9/, X, X, 8 1, 7/, 8/X. By applying the bonus pins after a strike (the next two balls) and a spare (the next ball), you can compute the progressive scores as follows: 20, 40, 57, 66, 86, 114, 133, 142, 160, 180. The final game score is 180. Note that where a bowler alternates between strikes and spares throughout a game, they will go up by 20 pins each frame and score a 200. This is known as a ‘Dutch 200′. An all spare game is another coveted achievement in bowling. The highest score possible with an all spare game is 190.
There are really no alternative methods of scoring in ten pin bowling. The method sometimes touted as an alternative method simply puts the scores into the frames right up to the current frame rather than waiting for bonus ball scores. Automated scoring systems will often show the current score in this way. Thus if a strike or spare is bowled in the first frame, a 10 appears on the scoreboard straight away. This will change, depending on what the bowler scores for their next ball. If they bowl a six after a strike, this will change the score in the first frame to 16. If they bowl a spare, the first frame score becomes 20 and their second frame score is 30. But this will change after they bowl their first bowl of the third frame, and so on. At the end of the game, the scores in each frame and the game score will be the same as they would be if each frame is only scored after bonus pins have been finalized.