Bowling Scoring

This may seem like an obvious answer, but a strike and a spare are worth more than they first seem on the surface. 

Obviously, a strike is worth 10 points. This is one point per pin knocked over. 

A spare is worth a variety of points, as it is dependent upon the number of points achieved by the ball thrown before it. 

Let’s get into the finer details of these two throws, both of which are the highest and second-highest scoring throws you can achieve.

Strike

A strike by itself is worth 10 points because you knocked 10 pins down in one throw. However, it depends when in the frame you threw it, as this can make it worth more. 

If you’re lucky/talented enough to hit a strike, your next two throws add onto the point count for that throw, so you essentially have the room to score 30 points. This can be quite confusing, so we’ll look at an example.

  • Bowl 1: 10 pins = 10 points (strike)
  • Bowl 2: 5 pins = 5 points
  • Bowl 3: 2 pins = 2 points
  • 10 + 5 + 2 = 17 points

17 points between 3 throws is pretty good, averaging out at just under 6 points per bowl altogether.

As mentioned above, scoring a strike gives you the opportunity to add the next two throws on, too. 

This counts up to three strikes in a row which is, in bowling lingo, a ‘turkey’. Do the same for all 10 frames and you’ll bowl a 300, known as a ‘perfect game’

Two in a row is a rhino, aka a double (or even a Barney Rubble if you like rhyming slang). 

This works the same way but gives you 4 or 5 bowls’ collective points depending on your success. After three strikes though, you move onto the next frame, otherwise, you’d get an incredibly unfair advantage on your opponent. 

This is all according to the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) rules, so there may be some differences and discrepancies, but this is generally the way bowling is scored across the globe.

Spare

A spare is the points scored after a strike. This term is used to show that all the balls were knocked down with the second ball of the frame because the bowler didn’t manage to achieve a strike in the first throw. 

Hitting all the bowls and getting a spare is basically a strike, except it took a whole frame rather than just one throw, and like a strike, the number of pins hit from the next bowl is added too. For example:

  • Bowl 1: 4 pins = 4 points
  • Bowl 2: 6 pins = 6 points
  • Bowl 3: 2 pins = 2 points
  • 4 + 6 + 2 = 12 points

A spare is usually denoted by a forward slash on the screen, similar to how a strike is noted down with an X. 

The individual spare can be worth up to 10 points—a spare still counts even if the bowl before it scored a zero. This is known as a hard spare, caused by a foot foul or a gutterball, and is sometimes jokingly referred to as scoring a strike one ball too late. 

Zero is called a gutterball, as this is impossible to not hit a single pin without the ball going into the gutter (pretty self-explanatory).

If a player bowls a spare in the final frame, they’re awarded an extra bowl at the end, a 21st throw in the standard 10 pin game.

Wrap Up

At this stage, we know what you’re thinking—and we agree: all these criteria is quite confusing! What with all the overlapping, symbols, etc.

Fortunately, electronic scoring is available practically everywhere at all alleys, so there isn’t too much to worry about. It’s always nice to know though, then you can show off to your friends. 

Marking strikes and spares is confusing, but it’s definitely worth understanding. People often think that a strike is simply 10 points; in a way, it is, but it also has positive repercussions for the two throws after. 

It’s just a shame you’re limited by scoring three strikes in a row to pick up bonus points. If you had trouble with this, as I used to, try and remember that the next frame is usually included in the ball you just threw.