How to Keep Score in Bowling

Bowling is a game that’s all about the numbers. It isn’t necessarily simple, as unlike football or hockey, the scoring goes into double and triple figures—much like basketball or American football. 

This article is a guide on how to keep track, as it can be complicated and confusing. Admittedly, there is usually a digital system that automatically does the job, but in case there isn’t, it’s always good to know. 

There are a few different types of scores to remember, and we’ll highlight how much they’re worth, what effect they have in the game, how to get them and avoid the lower score moves. 

In addition to the numbers, there’s a lot of key terms that you’ll need to remember. These are highlighted by symbols and letter abbreviations and they are noted later in this article. 

The basic rules and outlines of the game are worth remembering too, so think of this post as the beginner’s guide to the game of bowling.

The Basics

99.9% of bowling is scored according to the United States Bowling Congress’ rulings on ten-pin bowling, and that’s what this article will cover.

Each game consists of 10 frames per bowler, and each frame allows two bowls per bowler. That’s 40 bowls altogether in the game, but each bowler gets a bonus throw at the end of the tenth frame which makes it 42 altogether.

Points are never deducted in bowling, only missed. There’s no way to take away points, such as from getting gutterballs or using the ramps or the barriers—the only way is up.

Both players start with 0, and it’s added up from there. Every pin knocked over is worth one point, no exceptions.

Scoring Symbols

This is how all the different aspects of the game will appear on the digital display next to your name, above the lane:

– A strike, worth 10 points when you knock down all pins in one throw, is marked as an ‘X’.

– A spare, a strike plus the next throw’s points, is marked as a ‘/‘.

– If you hit no balls, that’s a miss and it is marked as a ‘-‘.

– If the bowler’s body goes past the throwing line, this is a foul and is marked down as an ‘F’.

– When all the pins except the headline are knocked down, this is called a wide or a washout. This is marked by a ‘W’ although this isn’t commonplace and is usually only on the more up-to-date systems.

Strike

A strike is worth 10 points, one point per pin you knockdown. This is the best score you can bowl not just because it gives you the most points, but it also gives you a great advantage as the next two bowls are added on top. 

For example, if you score a strike then score 7 points in the next bowl and 3 in the next, that only counts as one bowl (kind of like a reward), but it’s a 20 point play. 

If you get two strikes in a row, you get this plus another bowl on top! That’s three balls in one and a great opportunity to get ahead of your opponent on the score sheet. 

After these two strikes though, you don’t get any more extra balls, so make the most of this. A 30 point play from one ball is nothing to complain about! 

Strikes are symbolized by an ‘X’ in the box of the frame that they were scored in. Pretty simple stuff. 

The perfect game (very elusive and practically impossible) is a score of 300, where a bowler has thrown 30 strikes in a row.

Spare

Spare is the term used for a strike and whatever you score in the bonus ball after it. For example: if you bowl a strike then knock 7 pins over, that’s a 17 point spare.

Double

A double is two strikes in a row. It’s worth 20 points.

Turkey

A turkey is three strikes in a row—a clean 30 points. It’s very hard to get and rarely seen in amateur bowling unless there’s some luck involved.

Final Frame

In the final frame, there are no bonus points for strikes and spares but you do get an extra bowl at the end. However, this is limited at one; bowling a double won’t make this a three-throw frame.

Wrap Up

So there you have it: a beginner’s guide to bowling scoring. It might seem like there’s a lot to remember—and there is if you really want to know your stuff—but the vast majority of lanes have technology that will hold onto this for you. 

The scoring can be a bit confusing and you’ll wing it the first few times, but once you get used to it, you can start thinking tactically and predict what your next move’s going to be. Spares, turkeys, strikes… they’re all points worth having.