The Ultimate Bowling Guide – Rules and Regulation

Whether you’re just new to bowling, looking to change or improve your game, or maybe bowl once or twice a year, this bowling guide the right place to start.

Here you’ll be getting everything you need to know to get started. Rules, Scoring, etiquette, and more general information to start with a strong base of knowledge.

When you look at professional bowlers, you might realize that each one of them has a different style. But if you look closely, all of them will have the same basics, which are the fundamentals.
After you master the first steps or ABC’s in bowling, then you will be able to move on to the next steps. And of course, just like any other sport, there are a lot of bowling tips and tricks to help you in getting better results.

Bowling Rules:

Bowling is a sport played throughout the whole world, by hundreds of thousands of players competing in leagues and tournaments each year. So to be able to be a better bowler and perhaps start competing as well, it’s important to be aware of the basic rules of bowling.

1. Bowling Lanes:
A regulation bowling lane is 60 feet long (from the foul line to the headpin (pin #1) and 42 inches wide without the gutters (60 inches including gutters).

2. Bowling Pins:
Regulation bowling pins are made from hard maple and should weigh between 3 pounds 6 ounces and 3 pounds 10 ounces.
The pins should be fifteen inches high, 2 1/4 inches in diameter at the base and fifteen inches in circumference at the widest point.

3. Bowling Balls:
The bowling balls should weigh between ten and sixteen pounds and not be larger than 27 inches in circumference

4. Bowling Shoes:
Wearing proper footwear is a very basic bowling rule as normal sneakers could result in damaging the lane.

5. Frames:
The complete bowling game is made up of ten frames; A player delivers two balls in each of the first nine frames unless a strike is scored.

6. Scoring:
Scoring in bowling is one of the fundamental rules.
If the player fails to get a strike (X) or a spare (/), the score of the frame will be the total of both shots; this is called an open frame.
If the bowler gets a spare (/), the score for the frame is ten plus the number of pins knocked down on the next roll.
For a strike (X), the score ten plus the number of pins knocked down on the next two rolls.

The highest possible score in bowling is 300, which occurs when a player bowls twelve strikes in a row.

Perfect Game

**More about Scoring below**

7. Final Frame:
If the player bowls a strike in the last frame, he gets two additional rolls; for a spare, he only gets one.

8. Foul:
A foul occurs when any part of the player’s body goes beyond the foul line and touches any part of the lane, equipment or building during or after a delivery.

9. Illegal Pinfall:
Sometimes, not all pins knocked down count.
This happens when any of the following occur, the delivery counts but the resulting pinfall does not:

  • A ball leaves the lane before reaching the pins.
  • A ball rebounds from the rear cushion.
  • A pin rebounds after coming in contact with the body, arms or legs of a human pinsetter
  • A pin is touched by mechanical pin-setting equipment.
  • Any pin knocked down when dead wood is being removed.
  • Any pin knocked down by a human pinsetter.
  • The player commits a foul.
  • Delivery is made with dead wood on the lane or in the gutter, and the ball contacts such dead wood before leaving the lane surface.
  • If illegal pinfall occurs and the player is entitled to additional deliveries in the frame, the pin(s) illegally knocked down must be respotted where they originally stood before delivery of the ball.

Check out the USBC bowling rules for the full list.

How does bowling scoring work:

Even with the automated scoring systems available today, it is better to know the fundamentals and how does bowling scoring work.

There are several symbols and letters used in keeping score.

  • (X) – Strike
    All pins are knocked down in one throw.
  • (/) – Spare
    All pins are knocked down in two rolls.
  • (F) – Foul
    When any part of the bowler crosses or steps over the foul line.
  • (-) – Miss
    No pins are knocked down on that throw.
  • (O)/(S) – Split
    The number surrounded with an “O” shows that pins left are standing in a split formation.
    If the scoring system uses the (S), it will appear before the number.

Somehow, it’s adding the number of pins knocked down in each frame and adding an extra for strikes and spares.

Bowling Scoring Guide

In the example shown, the bowler gets a strike (X) in the first frame, and in the second frame, he got a seven on the first roll and continued with a spare (/) in the second.

This adds 10 to this score in the first frame indicated by the 20 shown.
The first roll of the third frame, the bowler got a 9, resulting in the 39 shown and then misses the remaining pin shown with a (-).

The total score for all three frames is 48.
20 from the first frame + 10 for the total pins knocked down in the second frame+ 9 the bonus for the spare ( 10 + one roll) + 9 for the total pins knocked down in the third frame.

Score Average:

Knowing your average is essential to know you level or ranking in leagues and tournaments. The USBC doesn’t officially recognize an average until you’ve bowled 12 games, but you can calculate your average based on any number of games.

Here’s how to do it:
1. Bowl.
You need some scores to be able to calculate your average.

2. Add Scores.
Say you bowled 3 games with scores 150, 180, and 166.
150 + 180 + 166 = 496

3. Divide by Number of Games.
In this example, we assumed that you bowled 3 games.
Divide 496 by 3.
496 ÷ 3 = 165.33

4. Round Down.
Bowling Scores are usually rounded down.
In this case, your average will be 165.

Bowling Handicap:

The purpose of the handicap is to make the leagues more fair and competitive.

Your handicap is usually calculated by the league organizers but why now know how it’s calculated.

1. Determine Your Average.

2. Determine The Basis Score.
The basis score varies from one league to another so make sure to ask the league organizers for it. Ideally, the basis score will be higher than the highest average in the league.
A typical basis score for a recreational league might be 210. Many leagues will take a percentage, for example 90%.
If you ask the league organizers what the basis score is, you might hear, “90% of 210.”

3. Subtract Your Average From the Basis Score.
If your average is 165 and the basis score is 210, subtract 165 from 210.
210 – 165 = 45

4. Multiply By The Percentage.
Take 90% (or whatever percentage your league uses) of the difference between your average and the basis score.
45 x 0.9 = 40.5
Your Handicap is 40.

*Pro Tips:

  • Your handicap will fluctuate from week to week. The basis score won’t change, but your average might, which will also cause your handicap to change.
  • Some leagues use 80%, some 90%, and some 100%. Always remember to subtract your average from the basis score before multiplying by the percentage.

Scoring Shortcuts:

  • A strike followed by a spare earns 20 points in a frame.
  • A spare followed by a strike earns 20 points in a frame.
  • The maximum score in one frame is 30 which is achieved by rolling three consecutive strikes.


A split is recorded when two or more pins are left standing with one or more fallen pins in between.

There are 459 possible split combinations in ten-pin bowling. Some of the most 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 is considered to be the 7-10 split.

Nowadays, there are even mobile applications that you can easily download to keep track of your scoring and your progress such as:



  • PinPal
    Also has a lite version available for free.

If you don’t want to install any applications on your mobile, there is this great web-based bowling score calculator.

Bowling Etiquette:

Probably if you go bowling outside of tournaments and leagues, then there is a chance that you have been both a witness and a victim of poor bowling etiquette. To be fair, many beginners and casual players just don’t know what is acceptable and what is not.

Many things can be done to make sure that you and others around you have the best time on the lanes.
These are not the full list but the most basic. So make sure that you have them in mind the next time you go bowling.

  • Never bother other bowlers while they’re in the process.
    Bowling requires a lot of concentration and focus. You probably don’t want anyone distracting you, so don’t disturb the others.
  • Bowlers on the right-hand side have the right to bowl first.
    Stay off the approach while you wait.
  • Don’t pick up your ball from the rack when the other bowler is getting started and is in the starting position.
  • Avoid making noise or movements that may be spotted by the bowler.
  • Don’t use abusive or vulgar language.
    Bowling is known to be something fun to do for all ages. Be courteous to families by avoiding foul language in their presence.
  • Let others bowl after you.
    When you bowl, of course, you would want to know what you hit but make sure to make your way back from the approach as quick as possible to give the other bowler the chance to bowl.
  • Wear proper shoes.
    Sneakers often bring up dirt and debris onto the lane which can damage the lanes.
  • Keep food and drinks away from the approach.
    Anything that can be spilled on the approach may result in unsafe bowling conditions.
  • Be ready when it’s your turn.
    Every bowler has his/her preshot routine. Make sure you do it but don’t let it take too long.
  • Don’t use someone else’s ball unless given permission.
  • Have fun.
    Bowling is supposed to be enjoyable so have fun but not at the expense of others.

Bowling Terminology:

Now, to fully understand all that goes around in bowling, learning the basic terms could help a lot.

  • All The Way: Completing a game with nothing but strikes from any given point.
  • Approach: The approach is the area where the bowler throws the ball.
    From the start of the lane until the foul line.
  • Baby Split: When the 2 & 7 / 3 & 10 remain standing after the first shot.
  • Back-End: The last 6 feet of the lane.
  • Bed Post: A 7 – 10 Split.
  • Big Four: When the pins 4, 6, 7, and 10 remain standing after the fist shot.
  • Big Five: Just like the “Big Four” but with three pins on one side and two on the other one.
    Pins 4, 6, 7, 8, and 10 or 4, 6, 7, 9, and 10.
    Also known as, Greek Church or Cathedral.
  • Brooklyn: A shot hitting the opposite side of the “Pocket”.
  • Clean Game: A full game without any open frames.
  • Coverstock: The outside cover of the ball.
    Learn more about the different types of bowling balls.
  • Deuce: A 200 average.
  • Double Wood: When one pin is directly behind the other.
  • Dutch 200: A 200 game scored alternating spares and strikes.
  • Fit Split: A split where the ball can hit both pins.
  • Five Bagger: Five strikes in a row.
  • Four Bagger: Four strikes in a row.
  • Gutter: The gutters are the two pits on both sides of the lane where the ball falls into.
  • Gutter Ball: When your ball falls into the gutter.
  • Handicap: Points awarded to weak players or teams to even out the game.
  • King Pin: Pin #5.
  • Lily: Split with pins 5, 7, and 10.
  • Messenger: A pin that goes across the width of the pin deck and knocks down another pin or pins, resulting in a strike.
  • Par: A game score of 200
  • Ringing 10: The situation where the result appears to be a strike, but a pin (usually the 6) flies around the 10 pin without knocking it over, leaving a pin-count of 9.
    For a left-hander, the equivalent is the “Ringing 7”.
  • Sparrow: Three spares in a row.
    Also known as “Chicken”
  • Sixpack: Six strikes in a row.
  • Strike Out: To get all three strikes in the last frame.
  • Track: The portion of the bowling ball, which comes in contact with the lane as it rolls down the lane.
  • Turkey: When a bowler gets three strikes in a row.
  • Turkey Sandwich: When a bowler gets a spare and then a turkey and then another spare.
  • Perfect Game: A game with score 300.
  • Pin Action: The motion of the pins after getting hit by the ball.
  • Pocket: The sweet spot. The most likely spot to get a strike.
  • Sleeper: A pin that is set directly behind another pin.

Now that you have gone through the whole guide, why don’t you challenge yourself with this Bowling Quiz?

Let us know what you have learned reading this article? Share with us in the comments below.